The United Kingdom has finally agreed to posthumously pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who had been convicted of violating sexual offense laws.
These laws have been out of practice for many years. It took decades to gain support for the much-deserved pardon for the men who suffered at the hands of narrow-minded legislators.
The pardon was given out by the government following the exoneration of Alan Turing in 2013 for his 1952 conviction for homosexuality. Turing was a celebrated World War II codebreaker who cracked a Nazi algorithm known as Enigma, an act that saved countless lives and shortened the war.
As a form of tribute to his significant accomplishment, the proposed amendment that will pardon gay and bisexual men has been called the “Turing Law,” and rightly so.
Until 1967, sexual acts committed by people of the same sex were regarded as gross indecency in the United Kingdom. Despite his incredible service to the world, Turing committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41, after having a chemical castration and losing his job and security clearance because of his sexuality.
Turing was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013 after many people advocated to have the brilliant mathematician exonerated. Supporters of the pardon included high-profile figures such as renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and Iain Stewart, a Conservative member of Parliament. Stewart described the pardon as a necessary step, which indicates a reversal of the country’s mistake. Turing’s exoneration is certainly a symbolic step in the right direction, but is it really enough for a country that initially forced chemical castration on men based on sexual preferences?
George Montague, who, like Turing, was convicted of gross indecency in 1974, says that he would not accept his own pardon and would not settle for anything less than an apology.
While talking to BBC TV, Montague said that accepting a pardon equated to an admission of guilt and wrongdoing. However, he was not guilty of anything more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Montague brings up a fair point.
So far, the United Kingdom has not done enough for the people whose lives it ruined. By doling out pardons, the United Kingdom is slapping the convicted men in the face, telling them that their actions made them guilty of the crime.
It is almost akin to a parent who wrongly yells at his or her child and later gives a half-baked compensation for the blunder instead of owning up to the mistake in an effort to save face. Likewise, the United Kingdom does not want to sacrifice its own pride for the proper apology these convicted men deserve.
Another notable person who was prosecuted under these British laws is Oscar Wilde, a well-known Irish playwright. In 1895, Wilde was sentenced to two years of labor.
This happened during a widespread surge to stop the “spread” of homosexuality, as if sexual preference were a disease that could be passed from one person to another. The two years of labor forced on Wilde had long-lasting consequences, such as ruining his finances and reputation and causing him to lose his personal library and papers.
Based on the suffering of both Wilde and Turing, it is clear that these discriminatory laws had incredibly traumatic effects on the people they targeted. Turing went as far as to take his own life after being prosecuted despite his substantial service to the United Kingdom.
According to a BBC quote from Lord John Sharkey, a member of Parliament, around 65,000 men were convicted under the British indecency law. As few as 15,000 of these men are still alive today. Regardless, it is clear that these 65,000 men have suffered at the hands of these prejudicial laws and were unjustly harmed in this process.
Shockingly, the surviving men affected by these laws have not been granted automatic pardons as they rightfully should have received. These men are once again being driven into the ground by being forced to apply for these inadequate pardons, as the “Turing Law” amendment passed in 2012 gave these men the right to be pardoned without providing automatic pardons. The amendment that would grant automatic pardons was rejected by the Parliament.
These are all small steps in the right direction, but these men deserve so much more than what is being offered. In such a fast-paced society, one is left to wonder when the world will finally start to shed its fear of true progress and leap forward into a future where love and gender no longer exist as a binary.