The government of England and Wales have just announced that gay men convicted of now-abolished sexual crimes will automatically receive pardons in an amendment dubbed the “Alan Turing law”.
Liberal Democrat Lord Sharkey, who proposed the amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, says that it’s a “momentous” step. He continued, “a pardon is probably the best way of acknowledging the real harm done by the unjust and cruel homophobic laws, which thankfully we’ve now repealed.”
Thousands of gay men were convicted in the past decades for being in same-sex relationships, including World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing, after whom the amendment is named. They could previously apply through the Home Office to have their offenses wiped from their criminal record, but now they will be automatically pardoned.
Turing’ posthumous royal pardon in 2013 led to increased public demand for other pardons. A petition in 2015 was signed by nearly 640,000 people, including Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Turing in the film The Imitation Game.
There have been other attempts by various organizations to provoke legal change and further pardons; the LGBT charity Stonewall is pushing for a similar amendment in Scotland, and the campaign group Rainbow Project is doing the same in Northern Ireland.
Of the 65,000 men convicted in England and Wales, 15,000 are still alive. However, not all of them are happy about the news. George Montague was convicted in 1974 of gross indecency with a man, and declared, “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.” An official apology, he insists, should be the proper response, and added, “I think it was wrong to give Alan Turing – one of the heroes of my life – a pardon.”