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U.K. Will Posthumously Pardon Thousands Of Gay And Bisexual Men

A poster of mathematician and computing innovator Alan Turing.
Philippe Lopez
AFP/Getty Images
A poster of mathematician and computing innovator Alan Turing.

The British government announced Wednesday that it intends to posthumously pardon thousands of men convicted for consensual sexual relationships with other men.

A proposed amendment dubbed the "Turing Law" was announced by the U.K.'s Ministry of Justice in a press release that said it would "build on the case of Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, who committed suicide following his conviction for gross indecency."

"It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today," said Sam Gyimah, the U.K.'s justice minister. He said his office would seek to put the new policy into effect by supporting an amendment to Britain's Protection of Freedoms Act, part of the country's Policing and Crime Bill.

The BBC quotes Lord John Sharkey, who proposed the amendment, as saying some 65,000 men were convicted under now-repealed indecency laws and 15,000 of them were still alive.

Turing, who died in 1954, was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. At the time, Parliament member Ian Stewart, who helped lead the campaign to pardon Turing, told NPR that posthumous pardons were an important "symbolic step that ... the country recognizes a huge wrong was done."

Until 1967, consensual sexual acts between people of the same sex were punishable as "gross indecency" in the U.K. After helping the allies win World War II, Turing lost his security clearance because of his conviction and was forced to take estrogen to neutralize his sex drive.

The writer Oscar Wilde is also among those convicted of crimes related to homosexuality, in his case to two years of hard labor. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports that Wilde could be among those pardoned.

Many people who are still alive and were convicted of sexual offenses that are no longer illegal are already able to apply to have their names cleared. A 2012 law made it possible for such individuals to apply have their convictions expunged.

Updated at 9:30 am ET on Oct. 25:

A separate proposed amendment that would have done away with the need to apply for pardons, and instead automatically pardon people who are still alive, was filibustered and did not advance to a vote.

Our original post continues

Neither the newly proposed posthumous pardons nor the 2012 law expunge convictions for nonconsensual offenses or for sexual offenses with minors under the age of 16, which remain illegal in Britain.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.