The UK government has confirmed that it will support a bill to clear the criminal records of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of consensual homosexuality.
The amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, dubbed the “Turing law”, was proposed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey and will impact 65,000 men, including 15,000 who are still alive.
Alan Turing, a mathematical genius and WWII codebreaker, committed suicide following his conviction for gross indecency and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen in 2013.
The planned amendment was announced by Justice Minister Sam Gyimah on Thursday.
“Today we are fulfilling our manifesto pledge to formally pardon those convicted of historic anti-gay laws,” said Gyimah. “I am proud of this important decision which delivers equal rights regardless of sexuality.
“It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during the Coalition by extending it to the thousands of other men who would be innocent of any crime today.”
At the moment, those living with the convictions can apply individually for a pardon. This removes any mention of an offence from criminal record checks.
The amendment, however, will offer a pardon to everyone convicted for gay sex offences that they would not be found guilty of today (the crime of gross indecency encompassed a number of acts, in addition to consensual homosexuality.)
Each case will be assessed to ensure that those convicted of having sex with anyone younger than 16, or under non-consensual circumstances, will not be pardoned, as these acts remain crimes today.
Some victims of the anti-gay laws, however, have bristled at the notion of being “given” a pardon, which implies, they say, that they had actually committed a crime in the first place.
“To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything. I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” George Montague, who was convicted of gross indecency with a man in 1975, told BBC Newsnight.
“I think it was wrong to give Alan Turing – one of the heroes of my life – a pardon, he added. “What was he guilty of? He was guilty of the same as what they called me guilty of – being born only able to fall in love with another man.”
Private homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 were legalised in 1967 in England and Wales, in 1980 in Scotland and in 1982 in Northern Ireland. The age of consent was only lowered to the heterosexual age of consent of 16 in 2000.