The government proposal will also make it easier for living Britons, convicted years ago of since-decriminalized sexual behavior, to clear their names.
The proposal has been dubbed the “Turing Law” — named after World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, subject of the 2014 film “The Imitation Game.” Turing committed suicide in 1954 after he was subjected to chemical castration as punishment for homosexual activity. In 2013, nearly 60 years later, he received a posthumous royal pardon from Queen Elizabeth II.
Anyone previously convicted of the abolished laws can already apply through the UK’s Home Office to have their names cleared and wiped from criminal record checks. But under the new law, the government will automatically pardon living men convicted of historical sexual offenses “who would be innocent of any crime today,” Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said in a statement.
“Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs,” Gyimah said.
Private homosexual acts for men aged over 21 were decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967. However the law was not changed in Scotland until 1980 or in Northern Ireland until 1982.
‘An admission of guilt’
Brighton resident George Montague, who was convicted in 1974 for gross indecency with a man, told CNN he won’t accept the government’s pardon because “it’s an admission of guilt.”
Instead, he wants an apology for the way he and many others were treated.
“In my view if you’re born only able to love and be in love with another a man — which means you’re gay — then it can’t be a crime. How can that be a crime? It’s not fair,” Montague said.
“The law didn’t apply to heterosexuals — they could have sex anywhere. But if you were gay and all you did was kiss your boyfriend in public you were convicted.”
He said he wouldn’t stop fighting until he received an apology from the government.
“We were treated very badly. I can’t understand it, even today, that there are so many people who do not understand or accept homosexuality.”
Andrew Gilliver from the LGBT Foundation in the UK told CNN that while the government’s announcement is welcomed, it’s long overdue.
“What’s unfortunate is that it’s taken this long. Obviously in that time (since the laws were abolished) so many people’s lives have been ruined,” he said, adding that family relationships and career opportunities were destroyed.
On Friday Parliament is set to debate a bill by MP John Nicolson which proposes a blanket pardon be applied to everyone living so that they don’t have to go through the disregard process via the UK’s Home Office.
However, the government has said it will not support the Nicolson bill because it “could lead, in some cases, to people claiming to be cleared of offenses that are still crimes.”
The government has already rejected several applicants under the current law because the activity was non-consensual or the other person involved was under 16 years old.
Closing a loophole?
Gyimah says he worries the consequences of the Nicolson bill haven’t been fully thought through.
“A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offense which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned,” he said.
However Paul Twocock of the Stonewall organization, which campaigns for the equality of LGBT people across Britain, said in a statement to CNN that he doesn’t agree with the government’s interpretation of the proposed bill.
“It explicitly excludes pardoning anyone convicted of offenses that would still be illegal today,” he said.
Twocock said the proposed Nicolson bill “closes a loophole which means some gay and bi men who are still alive and living with those convictions still can’t have them deleted, despite them being unjust and not illegal today.”
Gay rights around the world
In recent years homosexuals around the world have fought to be pardoned for same-sex crimes that have long since been abolished.
Earlier this month Germany announced plans to compensate thousands of men who were convicted under an old law for their sexual preferences, Deutsche Welle reported.
And in New Zealand, lawmakers introduced a petition in July seeking a formal apology and a pardon for those convicted of same-sex acts under laws abolished 30 years ago