Last month, it was announced that 50,000 men who had previously been convicted for committing homosexual acts have been posthumously pardoned. These pardons have been awarded under Turing’s Law, named after Alan Turing the mathematician who was the first to be pardoned in 2013, after he was convicted of homosexual acts in 1952.
Laws against same-sex activity were first introduced under the reign of Henry VIII where he pioneered the Buggery Act 1533. This act included any activity that was deemed to be an ‘unnatural sexual act against the will of God and man.’ The courts tightened this definition to include only acts including anal penetration or bestiality, both being punishable by death.
Despite this act being repealed in 1553 by Queen Mary, it was reinstated in 1563 by Queen Elizabeth I. There are not accurate records concerning how many were prosecuted during the 16th century, but there are records of public hangings during the 18th and 19th centuries under this law. It was a Capital Offence to be convicted of buggery up until the introduction of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
It wasn’t until 1967 when Parliament amended the laws and consensual homosexual acts in private with persons 21 or older were permitted. Following this revision, convictions still took place, as the loose distinctions between public and private were regularly argued, especially when it came to hotel rooms or multiple occupancy homes. It wasn’t until 2000 when the European Court of Human Rights overturned the restrictions placed on the initial law.
On 31st January 2017 the UK Government issued pardons to all those wrongly convicted under these historic laws by the issuing of Royal Assent. Where a person was convicted of being in a consensual same-sex relationship or caught within a same-sex act, there is now the opportunity to apply for a disregard and have the historic offences removed. This won’t undo the hurt and punishments experienced by those previously persecuted, but it’s a step in the right direction.
We at Reading Pride will continue to campaign for equal rights within the LGBT+ Community.