The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Britain to wipe from records past convictions for consensual same-sex activity

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks during a media briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in London in January 2021. (Matt Dunham/AP)
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Anyone convicted of consensual same-sex sexual activity under abolished laws in England and Wales will soon be eligible to be pardoned and have their records wiped, the BritishHome Office said in a news release Tuesday.

“It is only right that where offences have been abolished, convictions for consensual activity between same-sex partners should be disregarded too,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement.

“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,” Patel said.

Since 2012, people convicted under a narrower set of repealed offenses — including sodomy and gross indecency between men — have been eligible to apply to have their convictions disregarded.

The government will introduce an amendment to scrap this list and broaden eligibility to include anyone convicted or cautioned for an abolished civil or military offense related to consensual same-sex sexual activity. Those eligible would have the convictions wiped from their records.

The amendment would apply to civilians in England and Wales and people convicted of military offenses anywhere in Britain. Northern Ireland and Scotland have separate disregard and pardon schemes.

The plan will also grant a posthumous pardon to anyone who has died before the amendment comes into force or as many as 12 months afterward. The Home Office statement said the government would confirm the plan this week.

People must still go through an application process to have their records wiped, and any party involved in the activity in question must have been 16 or older and the sexual activity must be legal today.

The move follows a years-long campaign led by House of Lords members Michael Cashman and Alistair Lexden and sociologist Paul Johnson of the University of Leeds.

“We are delighted that our long campaign will at last bring many gay people, both living and deceased, the restitution they deserve,” Cashman, Lexden and Johnson said in a statement Tuesday, stating that the reformed legislation would be in place “in a matter of weeks.”

The repealed laws largely targeted gay men, prohibiting a wide range of same-sex activity among civilians and in the military. Britain began decriminalizing homosexuality in 1967.

Johnson, the executive dean for social sciences at Leeds, said the planned amendment will cover offenses that led to prison sentences, military dismissals and other punishments that “often severely impacted and, in some cases, ruined lives.”

The case of renowned mathematician Alan Turing, considered the founding father of the modern computer, became a famous example of the laws’ toll. Turing was convicted of same-sex activity in 1952, forced to undergo chemical castration and died in an apparent suicide in 1954.

Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered Turing a national apology in 2009, and Queen Elizabeth II pardoned him in 2013. Legislation named for Turing and passed in 2017 granted posthumous pardons to thousands of gay and bisexual men.

Sasha Misra, associate director of communications and campaigns for Stonewall, a Britain-based LGBTQ rights organization, hailed the government’s plan in a statement Tuesday.

“While the grave harm this has already caused cannot be undone, the Home Secretary’s decisive action is a huge step towards righting the wrongs of the past, and will ensure thousands of people will be able to move forward with their lives with a clean slate,” she said.

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