Thousands of gay men could be pardoned for same-sex acts under new U.K. law

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The Alan Turing bill would posthumously pardon those charged with ‘gross indecency.’

In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II formally pardoned Alan Turing, the mathematician who famously broke the German Enigma codes during World War II—but who was eventually charged with “gross indecency” for engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with another man and forced to undergo chemical castration. 

Now, thousands more gay and bisexual men may also be posthumously pardoned, thanks to a new “Alan Turing” law.

The Ministry of Justice said that, while no individuals would be singled out, all deceased people convicted of homosexual crimes that are no longer illegal (with a consenting person over 16) would receive a pardon. Which, according to Turing’s family, was over 49,000 men. Anyone living (an estimated 15,000 men) who had been convicted of such crimes could apply for a pardon as well.

Lord Andrew Sharkey proposed the amendment to the policing and crime bill and told the Guardian, “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the U.K. who have been campaigning on this issue for decades. I am very grateful for the government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in parliament.”

While this is a huge step in recognizing the harm done by homophobic laws, many consider it too little too late. George Montague, who was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1974, said a pardon is not enough. “To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything. I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told BBC.

“Gross indecency” became illegal in the UK in 1885, with the Labouchere Amendment. The crime was a catch-all term for male homosexual behavior when intercourse couldn’t be proven. The law was partially repealed in 1967, but the offense remained on the books until 2003.

Jaya Saxena

Jaya Saxena

Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'