The United Kingdom has posthumously pardoned about 49,000 males who were convicted of consensual homosexual activity that is no longer considered criminal. The pardons were included in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 that received Royal Assent on January 31, 2017. Men still alive who were convicted of the affected crimes can apply for a pardon.
The pardons were for males convicted of two crimes that have been partially decriminalized in the United Kingdom (England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the exception of Scotland). Those crimes were:
* Buggery (sodomy/anal sex) was criminalized in 1533. The maximum penalty was death until 1861, when it was reduced to a maximum of life imprisonment.
* Gross Indecency was made a crime in the United Kingdom in 1885. It criminalized sexual activity other than sodomy between males. The maximum penalty was two years in prison with or without hard labor.
The two crimes were decriminalized for private homosexual activity between consenting males over the age of 21 in England and Wales in 1967, in Scotland in 1980, and in Northern Ireland in 1982. The age of consent for lawful homosexual activity was reduced to 18 in 1994. In 2000 it was reduced to 16 to equalize the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual activity.
The movement for mass pardons arose after homosexual Alan Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, for his conviction in 1952 for gross indecency with a 19-year-old male. Turing underwent “organo-therapy” – chemical castration – as an alternative to a prison sentence. He died in 1954 from what was ruled to be self-administered cyanide poisoning. Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, and cryptanalyst whose work breaking coded German military messages is credited with shortening World War Two.
The pardoning provision of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 is known as “Turing’s Law.”
Playwright Oscar Wilde was among the males posthumously pardoned on January 31st. Wilde was convicted in 1895 of gross indecency with a male, and sentenced to two years in prison at hard labor. Wilde died destitute in Paris in 1900.
The buggery pardons also apply to women because it was a non-gender specific crime. However, it isn’t known if any women were actually convicted of buggery.
The pardons don’t apply to convictions in Scotland, so the Scottish Parliament will have to separately deal with historic homosexual related prosecutions.
Click here to read a summary of the UK’s Policing and Crime Act 2017.