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England to pardon 100,000 gay men convicted of past same-sex behavior

Before 2003 gay men could be arrested in the UK just or cruising.
Photo credit:
New Statesman

LONDON - English human rights organization, The Peter Tatchell Foundation, applauded the government today as they confirmed the granting of pardons for up to 100,000 gay men.

Prior to 2003, men could be convicted of engaging in homosexuality because historic anti-gay laws were still enforceable.

“This pardon is an important, valuable advance that will remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 - the latter being the year when all homophobic sexual offenses legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales,” Tatchell Foundation Director Peter Tatchell said in a statement.

He goes on to say that even though the pardons are good news, they carry with them a misplaced classification of members from an entire group.  

“A pardon has connotations of forgiveness for a wrong done,” Tatchell writes. “These men and the wider LGBT community believe they did no wrong.”

This mass forgiveness is also has a few limitations Tatchell says. It omits pardons for men who solicited or procured homosexual relationships under the 1956 and 1967 Sexual Offenses Acts.

“Nor does it pardon those people," he adds, "including some lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling under laws such as the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of outraging public decency, the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 and the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts and other diverse statutes.”

However the people who fall under those categories are still eligible to apply for a pardon.

It is still unclear whether people can apply on behalf of their deceased relatives.

“Many convicted men were rejected and disowned by their families,” writes Tatchell. “The government should make it clear that any concerned person, including personal friends, can apply for a pardon for a deceased person.

“For example, there are no known relatives of James Pratt and John Smith who, in 1835, were the last men to hang for homosexuality in England. They deserve a pardon, especially given that the safety of their conviction is doubtful.”

He says that there is a misconception about the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which did not legalize or fully decriminalize homosexuality. In fact, same-sex behavior remained unlawful under the heading “Unnatural Offenses.”

“An estimated 20,000 men were convicted of consenting adult same-sex behavior after 1967. Some were convicted for merely chatting up, winking or smiling at other men, for cruising and loitering and for aiding and abetting homosexual acts – even lawful ones post-1967.”

Classifications that constituted “Unnatural offenses” fell under a handful of societal behaviors.

“The four main offences that penalised gay and bisexual men were: buggery (anal sex), gross indecency (all non-anal sex acts between men, including mere touching and kissing), procuring (facilitating, aiding and abetting) and importuning (chatting up, cruising). These crimes were not repealed until 2003,” said Tatchell.

Tatchell is proud of his country's progress toward the LGBT community in the last five centuries and says these pardons are finally putting an end on England's history of homophobic laws. 

"Since the Sexual Offences Act 2003, for the first time in over 500 years, we have a criminal code that does not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Progress at last!" he said.