On Oct. 19, the British government passed the “Alan Turing Law,” posthumously pardoning thousands of gay and bisexual men for what until 1967 was a crime in England and Wales — gay sex, or as it was previously referred to, “gross indecency.”
Alan Turing is best known for his efforts in ending World War II with the breaking of the German Enigma Code. It is estimated that he shortened the length of the war by 2-4 years. Turing was a brilliant Mathematician and is regarded by many as the father of computer science. He was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1952 and shortly after decided to be chemically castrated rather than going to jail. Two years later, Turing killed himself at the age of 41. In 2013, he was granted a posthumous royal pardon — 61 years after his death.
Rachel Barnes, Alan Turing’s great niece, has been heavily involved in the campaign to pardon other gay and bisexual men for a long time— launching a petition in January 2015 that gained over 500,000 signatures over a two-week span.
Barnes stated that, “as Alan Turing received a pardon, it is absolutely right that those who were similarly convicted should receive a pardon as well.” She also added that the passing of the law made for a “momentous day for all those who have been convicted under the historic laws, and for their families. The gross indecency law ruined people’s’ lives.”
For many, though, Turing, and the rest of the men whose only crime was having consensual sex with other men, don’t deserve a pardon, but an apology instead.
“I was not guilty of anything,” George Montague, 93, a gay activist and author who lives in Brighton, England told BBC about being convicted of gross indecency in the 1970s. Montague added that Turing is a hero and he doesn’t need to be pardoned either. “What was he guilty of? He was guilty of the same as what they call me guilty of: being born only able to fall in love with another man.”
Consensual sex between men over 21 was decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967, Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. According to the New York Times, the Turing Law was pushed by John Sharkey, a member of the House of Lords who estimated that 15,000 of the 65,000 men convicted under the law were still alive.
Charged under the “gross indecency” law, these men had the opportunity to apply to British Home Office and have their names cleared through a “disregard” process that is available. According to The Independent, this process would remove any mention of an offense from criminal record checks.
Although the past can’t be rewritten, it’s important to take note of the efforts the British government has done to push history in the right direction. Hopefully, other countries will take notice and abolish outdated laws that no longer serve a purpose and never did in the first place.