A photograph taken of two men in tears in the gallery of the Scottish Parliament is a touching reminder of the importance of Scotland’s apology to gay men convicted of historical sexual offences.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon “wholeheartedly” apologised on Tuesday to gay men, who were convicted when homosexuality was still illegal in the country.
Sturgeon’s apology came on the same day that new legislation was brought in, that would automatically pardon these men.
She said it was “shocking” that homosexuality remained illegal in Scotland until so recently — with consensual sex between men aged over 21 only being decriminalised in Scotland in 1981. The age of consent for gay men was only lowered to 16 in 2001.
“Before then, hundreds of people in Scotland were liable to be convicted as criminals, simply for loving another adult,” said Sturgeon. “Those laws criminalised the act of loving another adult; they deterred people from being honest about their identity to family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues; and by sending a message from parliament that homosexuality was wrong, they encouraged rather than deterred homophobia and hate.
“Today as first minister I categorically, unequivocally, and wholeheartedly apologise for those laws and for the hurt and the harm that they caused to so many,” she continued.
“Nothing that this parliament does can erase those injustices, but I do hope this apology, alongside our new legislation, can provide some comfort to those who endured those injustices,” Sturgeon added. “And I hope that it provides evidence of this parliament’s determination in so far as we can to address the harm that was done.”
The publication of the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill — the so-called “Turing law”, named after the World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing — will provide an automatic formal pardon to an estimated 5,000 Scottish men, both living and dead.
It applies to acts which are now legal, however, it will not affect records for activity that is still illegal — such as non-consensual sex, or sex with a minor.
Those with convictions who are still alive will also be able to apply for a “disregard,”, which would remove convictions from their record.
While the pardon will be automatic, the “disregard” would need to be applied for in order to check on a case-by-case basis that the offences aren’t ones which are still illegal.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the changes are an important step towards addressing the injustices faced by gay men in the past.
“These discriminatory laws, although abolished, continue to have implications for people to this day and it is only right that we address this historic wrong, which criminalised people simply because of who they loved,” he said.
England and Wales passed the Turing law in January 2017, pardoning 50,000 gay and bisexual men who were convicted before homosexuality between men aged over 21 was decriminalised in 1967.
The law was informally named after Turing, who was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1952 and was chemically castrated, before committing suicide in 1954. He was pardoned in 2013.
Turing’s family and gay rights groups campaigned for pardons for other men historically convicted. Before the 2015 elections, they presented a petition with nearly 500,000 signatures to Downing Street.
The law would only be applied to men because gay women weren’t criminalised.
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