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New Zealand to clear records of men convicted of gay sex

New Zealand has announced that men convicted of homosexuality under now-defunct laws will have their records cleared. Although the government apologized to those convicted, they will not receive compensation.

New Zealand Justice Minister Amy Adams put forth a plan to wipe clean the criminal records of people convicted of indecency, sodomy or providing a place for homosexual acts under the country's old laws.

"It means people will be treated as if they had never been convicted and removes the ongoing stigma and prejudice that can arise from convictions for homosexual offenses," she said.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1986, people who were convicted before then still have the offense listed on their official records. Sex between women was never explicitly illegal, meaning men were primarily affected.

Adams explained that those old convictions could appear on criminal history checks and may also be disclosed while applying for jobs.

"There is no doubt that homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted and branded as criminals for consensual activity suffered tremendous hurt and stigma," Adams told reporters. "We are sorry for what those men and their families have gone through."

Although the minister apologized, she noted that victims would not receive any compensation.

An estimated 1,000 gay or bisexual men are eligible to apply to have their records cleared when the plan takes effect next year. The plan still needs to be approved by Parliament, but has gained broad support from lawmakers.

To qualify for the plan, the sexual act that led to the conviction must have been consensual and between people aged 16 or older. Family members can also apply to have the records of a deceased relative cleared.

Opposition lawmaker Grant Robertson, an openly gay man, praised Adams' plan on Twitter, congratulating her for "righting this long-standing wrong."

After legalizing homosexuality, the country passed laws banning discrimination against gays in 1993. In 2013, New Zealand legalized same sex marriage.

Annulling convictions

The British government recently enacted "Turing's Law," granting a posthumous pardon to almost 50,000 gay and bisexual men who were convicted under defunct anti-gay laws in England and Wales.

The law is named after the WWII code-breaker, mathematician and information technology pioneer Alan Turing, who was stripped of his job and chemically castrated after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man.

The UK law also allows living people to have their convictions erased, but they must apply individually.

Meanwhile, the German Justice Ministry put forth a draft bill to the German Cabinet last October to compensate tens of thousands of people who were convicted under the country's own anti-gay laws. The draft would also clear their names.

Germany's infamous Paragraph 175, part of the country's criminal code from 1871 to 1994, made homosexual acts a crime. The anti-gay code was tightened during the Nazi era, with thousands of gay and bisexual men sent to concentration camps.

A total of 140,000 men were convicted in total, with around 50,000 of them having been prosecuted since the end of World War II.

In late November, a government spokeswoman said that the draft bill had been sent to the ministries and was awaiting their approval.

rs/msh  (AP, AFP)

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