Metro Weekly

UK pardons all gay men convicted of consensual sex under defunct law

The British government said the new scheme would help towards "righting the wrongs of the past"

united kingdom, britain, consensual, gay, sex, pardon
The Palace of Westminster, which contains the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom — Photo: Marcin Nowak / Unsplash

The British government has announced that all gay men convicted of consensual sex under since-abolished laws will have their records expunged.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the move, which comes 54 years after consensual gay sex was decriminalized, would help with “righting the wrongs of the past,” the Independent reports.

The Disregards and Pardons scheme currently allows gay men to have offences involving “buggery and gross indecency between men” removed from their record.

But a new bill would expand the eligible offenses to include any defunct laws regarding consensual same-sex sexual activity, regardless of whether the offence took place in a civilian or military setting.

“It is only right that where offences have been abolished, convictions for consensual activity between same-sex partners should be disregarded too,” Patel said in a statement.

“I hope that expanding the pardons and disregards scheme will go some way to righting the wrongs of the past and to reassuring members of the LGBT+ community that Britain is one of the safest places in the world to call home.”

Under the updated scheme, all qualifying cautions and convictions would be granted an automatic pardon. For those who died before the changes came into place, posthumous pardons will be granted.

Patel highlighted Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden, two peers in the United Kingdom’s unelected House of Lords, for their efforts in championing expansion of the pardon scheme.

In a statement alongside sociologist Professor Paul Johnson, the peers welcomed the news, saying they were “delighted that our long campaign will at last bring many gay people, both living and deceased, the restitution they deserve.”

“For five years, the three of us have been working together on behalf of gay people in the armed forces and in civilian life, who suffered grave injustice because of cruel laws which discriminated against them in the past,” they said.

“Now that parliament has repealed those laws, it has a duty to wipe away the terrible stains which they placed, quite wrongly, on the reputations of countless gay people over the centuries.”

They added: “We have been pressing the government since 2016 to widen the disregard and pardon schemes through which individuals’ reputations can be fully restored.

“The government has now pledged to bring forward amendments to legislation which is currently before the Lords. It has done this in close consultation with us.

“In a matter of weeks, legislation will be in place to enable thousands of gay people to whom grave harm was done to wipe their records clean.”

The act of sodomy was first made a felony in England and Wales in 1533 by King Henry VIII, punishable by death. The Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 removed the death penalty but retained criminalization for “the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal.”

While sexual acts between two men were eventually legalized in 1967 in England and Wales, the impact of British colonization — and the spreading of the criminalization of sodomy and anti-gay sentiment — continues to be felt across the world.

Related: Human rights body calls on Jamaica to repeal its colonial-era ban on gay sex

The BBC estimates that almost two-thirds of the 71 countries where it is currently illegal to be gay were once under some form of British control.

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