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.
I get 'too little too late' & 'overturned not pardoned' gripes but for the 15k men living with an unfair conviction #Turing law must be huge— Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) October 20, 2016
I'm so happy this is a thing but to call it a pardon is absolutely unacceptable #AlanTuringLaw— bran (@alteredliszt) October 20, 2016
I wonder if those families of the thousands of convicted men will receive an apology from the government. I doubt it. #turinglaw— Stephen Carr (@steJcarr) October 20, 2016
“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 The law was partially repealed in 1967, but the offense remained on the books until 2003.