Germany’s cabinet has approved a bill that will pardon all men convicted after 1948 of a consensual homosexual crime. Men who are still alive will be granted compensation.
Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code criminalized homosexual acts between males. The law was enacted in 1871, and it wasn’t repealed until March 10, 1994. The law prohibited homosexual acts between males, both consensual and non-consensual. Although it was considered to be immoral and violate nature, lesbianism wasn’t criminalized in Germany because it wasn’t viewed as a threat to society.
The acts prohibited under Paragraph 175 were broadened in 1935 to include “lewd acts” by males, such as mutual masturbation and consensual touching. In 1950 the East German communist government repealed the 1935 amendments, while in West Germany they were confirmed by its Constitutional Courts.
East Germany repealed Paragraph 175 in 1968, but it was not repealed in West Germany. East and West Germany were unified in 1990, and four years later Germany repealed Paragraph 175.
More than 100,000 men were convicted of consensual homosexual acts under Paragraph 175 from 1871 to 1994. Around 60,000 men were convicted after the Federal Republic of Germany was created in May 1949.(The FRG was known as West Germany until it unified with East Germany in 1990, when it became known as Germany.)
Homosexual acts were vigorously prosecuted in West Germany under Paragraph 175. A judge in Frankfurt who presided over the conviction of more than 100 homosexuals in 1950 and 1951 said they were guilty of “degeneration” that was capable of “destroying the foundation of the state.” In 1957 the German Supreme Court ruled that homosexuals imprisoned during the Nazi era were not eligible for compensation or a pension as Holocaust survivors because they had been lawfully imprisoned as criminals under Paragraph 175.
On March 22, 2017 Germany’s cabinet approved a bill to make a legislative pardon available for all men convicted after 1948 of a consensual act under Paragraph 175. Men who are living can apply for a “vindication certificate” and relatives can apply for a posthumous pardon.
Under the bill men who are still living will be eligible for compensation of 3,000 Euros ($3,260), plus 1,500 Euros ($1,630) for each year in custody. For men granted a posthumous pardon, their compensation will not go to relatives, but to groups promoting homosexual rights. A Paragraph 175 conviction typically resulted in a two-year prison sentence.
The German government has set aside 30 million Euros ($32.6 million) to pay compensation claims.
Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection Heiko Maas has been an advocate for the pardon and compensation bill: “The rehabilitation of men who ended up in court simply because of their homosexuality is long overdue. They were persecuted, punished and ostracised by the German state just because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity.”
Men convicted of homosexual acts with children, or that involved violent or threatening behavior are excluded from rehabilitation and compensation under the bill.
The German parliament is expected to approve the rehabilitation bill that has broad support.