In a long-awaited triumph for the U.K.’s LGBTQ community, the government on Tuesday announced that anyone convicted of consensual same-sex activity under now-defunct laws will soon be eligible to be pardoned and have their records wiped clean.
This week’s announcement follows a less-expansive 2017 measure that was limited to nine former offenses that targeted gay and bisexual men. The new amendment will widen the criteria to anyone officially warned or convicted for an abolished civil or military offense that was imposed due to consensual gay sex.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement that it was only right that where offenses have been abolished, "convictions for consensual activity between same-sex partners should be disregarded, too.”
“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,” she said.
According to the U.K. government's statement, those eligible can apply to have their convictions wiped from their records under the condition that the sexual activity is currently legal and that any party involved was 16 or older at the time of the incident. The plan also includes a posthumous pardon granted to those who have died before the amendment's ratification and within 12 months after.
Britain started to legalize consensual sex between men in 1967. Then in 2001, the age of consent for gay and bisexual men was lowered from 21 to 16, bringing it on par with the age of consent for heterosexuals. For comparison, England’s sodomy laws were repealed long after similar laws in France were abolished in 1791, but before all American sodomy laws were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.
In 2013, Alan Turing, the codebreaker who aided in the defeat of the Nazis, was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II for a same-sex offense he was convicted of in 1952. Then in 2016, the U.K announced its pardon plan, dubbed “Turing’s Law,” which granted posthumous pardons to thousands of men convicted under now-repealed laws.
Approximately 65,000 men were convicted under these abolished measures, according to Lord John Sharkey, a British politician who had been pushing for the pardons. In 2016, Sharkey estimated that 15,000 of these men were still alive, NBC News reported at the time.
LGBTQ advocates welcomed Tuesday’s announcement, but some called for the government to issue a formal apology to those affected by the historical convictions.
“Posthumous pardoning offers only a symbolic gesture to those who have since died without clearing their name,” the British advocacy group LGBTQ Foundation said in a statement, adding that the government must recognize "the pain, trauma and lifelong guilt and stigma these convictions gave many LGBTQ+ people, who were simply trying to live their lives and be their true selves.”
The group also said that the government should not make LGBTQ Britons apply for their convictions to be removed, which “has the potential to bring up past trauma.” Instead, they argued that the government should remove the offenses automatically.
The United Kingdom is not the only country to pardon past crimes involving consensual same-sex relationships. A similar victory swept across Australia in 2008, when all states and territories passed legislation allowing for the expungement of past homosexual offenses. And in the U.S., California Gov. Gavin Newsom created a pardon process in 2020 for LGBTQ Californians convicted under outdated laws criminalizing same-sex activity.