UK to pardon thousands convicted under anti-gay law

Thousands of men convicted under now-abolished laws against homosexuality are to receive posthumous pardons, the British government confirmed in late October.

Those who are still alive will be eligible to have their criminal records wiped clean.

The Ministry of Justice said the pardons apply to men convicted of consensual same-sex sexual relations before homosexuality was decriminalized several decades ago. Men living with convictions can apply to the government to have their names cleared.

Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said the government was trying “to put right these wrongs.”

“It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offenses who would be innocent of any crime today,” he said.

Pardon — or Apology?

Calls for a general pardon have been building since World War II codebreaker Alan Turing was awarded a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.

The computer science pioneer helped crack Nazi Germany’s secret codes by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers. His work helped shorten World War II and he was an innovator of artificial intelligence.

After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He died in 1954 at age 41 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Sex between men remained illegal in England until 1967 — and even later in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The age of consent for gay people was not lowered to 16, the same as for heterosexuals, until 2001.

Many gay rights campaigners welcomed the announcement. But some said the government should go further and issue a blanket pardon, rather than making men apply to have their criminal records vacated.

Others said they wanted an apology, not a pardon.

“To accept a pardon means to accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything,” said 94-year-old writer George Montague, who was convicted of gross indecency — then a commonly used charge for sex between men — in 1974.

“I think it was wrong to give Alan Turing, one of the heroes of my life, wrong to give him a pardon,” Montague told the BBC. “What was he guilty of? Being born only able to fall in love with another man.”

Outside the UK

A few other countries, including Canada and New Zealand, are considering pardons for people convicted under now-repealed laws against gay sex.

Gay-rights advocacy groups in the United States said they knew of no U.S. state that had contemplated similar action.

However, the U.S. military — after lifting a ban that prevented gays from serving openly in the ranks — adopted a policy enabling gay soldiers who had been forced out to upgrade their discharges from dishonorable to honorable.

High court to hear transgender rights case

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up transgender rights for the first time in the case of a Virginia school board that wants to prevent a transgender teenager from using the boys’ bathroom at his high school.

The justices will hear the appeal from the Gloucester County school board next year. The high court’s order means student Gavin Grimm will not be able to use the boys’ bathroom in the meantime.

A lower court had ordered the school board to accommodate Grimm, but the justices in August put that order on hold.

Grimm was allowed to use the boys’ restroom at his high school for several weeks in 2014. But after some parents complained, the school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.