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UK to pardon thousands of men convicted under defunct anti-gay laws

Britain has said it will pardon thousands of gay men who were convicted under repealed sexual offense laws. The plan was named after Alan Turing who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma code and was also convicted of indecency.

Those found guilty under long-repealed homosexuality laws in the UK are to be pardoned, the government announced on Thursday.

"It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today," said Justice Minister Sam Gyimah. "Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs."

Some 65,000 men were convicted under the laws and around 15,000 of those men are still alive, said Liberal Democrat Lord John Sharkey who has been pushing for the pardons.

Thursday's announced plan will make the change through an amendment to the policing and crime bill. Homosexual acts were not decriminalized in England until 1967, while the law was not changed in Scotland until 1980 and in Northern Ireland until 1982.

'Turing's Law'

Thursday's announcement follows the royal pardoning of British mathematician Alan Turing in 2013. Turing helped crack the "unbreakable" Nazi Enigma code in World War II, and is credited among the founding fathers of computing, but was convicted of indecency in 1952 for having sexual relations with a man.

Alan Turing (National Portrait Gallery)

Turing, who cracked the Enigma code, committed suicide two years after his conviction

Turing was stripped of his security clearance following the conviction and forced to undergo chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later at the age of 41. The proposed pardon plan has been dubbed "Turing's Law" in his honor.

Lord Sharkey, who introduced the bill to clear Turing, said Thursday's announcement heralded "a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK."

"It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing," he told BBC.

It was not immediately clear whether or not Irish playwright Oscar Wilde would be pardoned as well, the Guardian newspaper reported. The Ministry of Justice has said no new individuals would be named or singled out. The ministry did also not immediately comment on Wilde's case.

Wilde was convicted in 1895 during a Victorian crackdown on homosexuality and was sentenced to two years of hard labor. During sentencing, the presiding judge Alfred Wills said: "That the jury has arrived a correct verdict in this case I cannot persuade myself to entertain a shadow of a doubt," and labeled the sentence's severity as "totally inadequate for a case such as this." Wilde's response, "And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?" were the last words spoken in the courtroom.

'Apology' instead of pardon

Although Thursday's announcement was hailed by many, others who suffered under the law were hesitant about the proposal's terminology.

George Montague, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1974, said that although he "couldn't be happier" about the news, he wanted an apology - not a pardon.

"To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything," Montague said in an interview with the BBC.

He said the only thing he was guilty of was "being born only able to fall in love with another man."

rs/msh   (AP, AFP, Reuters)

 

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