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Germany Finally Overturns Arrests of Gay Men, Nearly 50 Years Later

Justice certainly can take awhile.

More than 50,000 men who were arrested and jailed in Germany for having sexual relationships with other men in the years after World War II will have their convictions overturned and be offered a modest reparation payment, the German government announced Wednesday.

The law only applies to convictions between 1949 and 1969, even though the country’s anti-gay laws date back to the 1800s and were kept on the books until 1994, according to The Guardian.

During World War II and the Nazi era, tens of thousands of men were arrested for engaging in gay behavior. Many died in concentration camps, according to the BBC.

But for those men who faced a conviction for having “sexual relations” with other men during those decades, they will be entitled to a $3,235 payment from the government, along with $1,600 for each year spent in prison and a clean record going forward.

The law only applied to sexual acts between men, not women.

Read More: 50,000 Gay Men Pardoned In UK Under 'Turing Law'

Fritz Schmehling, a 74-year-old German resident, was convicted as a teenager in 1957.

“I don’t want to die with a criminal record,” he told the AFP news agency ahead of the bill’s passage. “I’ve had cancer twice and was operated on, but maybe I will still get to enjoy the moment my name is cleared. As sad as it is, in the time it takes, many of the older ones among us are going to die.”

Late last year the British government announced that it would do the same for men arrested under anti-gay laws there in an act called the “Turing Law,” named for the heroic World War II codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing, who was arrested and convicted for having sex with another man, lost his job, was castrated, and then committed suicide at age 42.

The payments in the German bill are meant to recognize the suffering and stigma the men endured, both in being prosecuted and knowing they could be prosecuted at any time, the government's justice minister, Heiko Maas, said Wednesday.

Read More: Malta Is First European Country to Ban Gay Conversion Therapy

“The rehabilitation of men who ended up in court simply because of their homosexuality is long overdue,” Maas said. “They were persecuted, punished, and ostracised by the German state just because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party of Social Democrats approved the bill, which created a $540 million fund for the payments named after German gay rights advocate and sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld.

Read More: LGBTQ Laws Around the World