BY ROB SALERNO – The Conservative government in Britain has unveiled its latest promise to improve the status of gay and lesbian Brits, with a new bill that will make it possible for gays who suffered convictions under the country’s old, unjust sex laws to receive full pardons.
Britain decriminalized sex between two consenting men above the age of 21 in 1967. Prior to that, “buggery” and “gross indecency between men” were crimes under the Sexual Offences Act of 1956. The country later lowered the age of consent to 18 in 1994, then to 16 in 2000, equalizing it with the age of consent for heterosexual sex.
In Canada, unequal age of consent is still in the Criminal Code and is enforced in five provinces and three territories (the other five provinces’ Superior Courts have declared unequal age of consent unconstitutional).
UK gay rights activist Peter Tatchell estimates that up to 100,000 gay men were convicted of consenting same-sex offences in Britain in the last century. Many of those men were sent to prison, lost their jobs or were prevented from obtaining jobs or housing because of their criminal records.
Under the Protection of Freedoms Act, which received royal assent May 1, men convicted of those crimes may receive pardons by application as long as their partners were at least 16 years old and their action would not otherwise be a crime today. UK PM David Cameron had promised the measure during his election campaign last year.
While the bill does not provide for restitution for these men, it does allow them to remove a stain on their permanent records that may cause continuing shame or difficulty.
Canada has never introduced a blanket pardon for gay men convicted under its own buggery laws, which were repealed in 1969. In fact, after Trudeau’s omnibus bill decriminalizing homsexuality passed, the last man to be convicted under the law, George Klippert, remained in prison a further two years as an “incurable homosexual."