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Germany to rehabilitate, compensate victims of anti-gay law

The Bundestag has voted to rescind all convictions for homosexuality from the post-war period. Germany's LGBT community has described the vote as "historic," albeit not without its shortcomings.

Some 5,000 persecuted under Germany's notorious anti-gay laws are due to be rehabilitated and compensated,  the Bundestag, the lower house of German parliament, decided on Thursday.

Those affected will have their convictions rescinded and be paid 3,000 euros ($3,350) in compensation, as well as an additional 1,500 euros for every year they spent in prison.

The criminalization of homosexuality in Germany, known as Paragraph 175, was written in Nazi Germany, where homosexuals were persecuted and murdered. West Germany retained the law unchanged after the war. Communist East Germany effectivly removed Paragraph 175 from its laws in the late 1950s.

Read more: Merkel's conservatives under pressure to allow gay marriage

West Germany's criminal code was reformed in 1969, but paragraph 175 wasn't completely stricken until 1994, four years after German reunification. Female homosexuality, meanwhile, has never been illegal in Germany.

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Some 64,000 men were persecuted under the law. It is unclear how many of those men are still alive today, although Germany's Justice Ministry estimated the number to be around 5,000 at most.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Bundesrat, the parliament's upper house, although it has already announced that it will vote in favor.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the Bundestag decision was a "belated act of justice," adding that the state had a great debt. "The norm created unimaginable suffering, which led to self-denial, sham marriages, harassment and blackmail."

Read more: Victims of German anti-gay law finally get their day in the Bundestag

LGBT community voices delight and grievances

The decision was also welcomed by Germany's LGBT community. Lawmaker Helmut Metzner, who sits on the federal board of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, described the decision as a "historic step forward."

"After many long years of ignorance, a portion of the victims of state persecution have been given their dignity back," Metzner said.

However, the ruling did stoke some criticism. Metzner said the financial compensation was too small and failed to take into account that victims had been ostracized from society and fired from their jobs. Those effects were still being felt in pension payments.

Read more: That's not me: poll finds homosexuals in Germany don't feel represented in ads

A change in the draft bill by the conservative union parties also provoked anger among the opposition parties. Compensation was due to be paid out to all victims who had relations with anyone over the age 14, the age of sexual consent in Germany.  

However, the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister-party pressured the bill to be changed to only compensate only to those who had relations with anyone aged more than 16.

dm/sms (dpa, epd, AFP)

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