Metro Weekly

Norway Apologizes For Law That Criminalized Gay Sex

Formal government apology comes 50 years after the country's anti-sodomy law was abolished in 1972.

Norway – Photo: Peggy Marco, via Pixabay; text added by Todd Franson.

Last week, the government of Norway formally apologized to gay men for law that once criminalized same-sex relations — 50 years to the date after the law was officially repealed.

Under the law, first passed in 1902, 119 individuals, including more than 100 men, were convicted of consensual same-sex activity and imprisoned. The law continued to be enforced into the 1950s, and thereafter was rarely enforced but was never fully repealed until April 21, 1972, when lawmakers decriminalized homosexuality.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the law’s repeal, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre issued an official apology for the law. 

Speaking before a group of LGBTQ activists, veterans of Norway’s skeive, or queer, community, and other representatives of the LGBTQ movement, Støre and Annette Trettebergstuen, a lesbian who serves as the country’s minister of culture and equality, apologized for the treatment of LGBTQ people, both those convicted under the law and those who suffered discrimination or harassment outside of the judicial system until recent decades, when the LGBTQ community began to become more accepted, reports Reuters.

Since the law’s repeal, Norway has generally been at the forefront of expanding LGBTQ rights, becoming only the second country, after Denmark, to permit civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 1993, and legalizing marriage equality in 2009.

The Norwegian Police have already apologized for the arrests and prosecution of gay men under the law in 2019, as well as for how officers used to harass suspected homosexuals, leaving them in fear of being prosecuted, even during the years when the law was rarely enforced, until its repeal.

Noting that the law had “destroyed many lives,” Trettebergstuen highlighted the significance of the apology and what it means for the government’s commitment to ensuring equality in the future. The government’s goal, she said, “is to improve skeives‘ standard of living and mental health. We will forbid conversion therapy, which undoubtedly has damaged those subjected to it.”

Støre noted in his remarks that “119 people were made criminals and punished for their romantic relationships” under the law, reports the English-language Norwegian website NewsinEnglish.no.

“They had to endure court cases, criminal convictions and prison. They faced public shame and condemnation,” he said. Noting that people’s careers were hindered and many lost their jobs for homosexuality convictions, he called the law “a serious violation of our most important values: equality, justice and freedom.”

“It was simply wrong, and when mistakes are made, they should be acknowledged,” Støre said. “Through legislation, but also through a network of sanctions, we as a nation and society made it clear that we did not accept queer love. The government wishes to apologize for that.”

Inge Gjestvang, the leader of the national LGBTQ rights group FRI (Free), thanked Støre for his “historic” apology, but expressed regret that the apology came too late for those convicted under it, who didn’t live to see a society where homosexuality and same-sex relations are tolerated.

“We know there are many who are no longer among us who would have gladly heard [Støre’s apology] here,” Gestvang told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “but we will take this apology further in our battle for skeive rights.”

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