22 Oct Almost, But Not Quite: Britain Pardons Homosexuals, But Won’t Apologize
What is a pardon worth when someone has committed no crime?
This started off as a very different post, and, before I read this New York Times article in its entirety, I saw its story as a hopeful and exciting turn towards the future. But when you really examine the core of this idea, it seems meaningless and showy.
Over the course of British history, many tens of thousands of men have been arrested for various “crimes” that were merely concocted to outlaw public (and sometimes private) homosexual behavior. The notions of ‘buggery’ and ‘loitering with intent’ were pursued as legal offenses to prevent men from engaging in sex with other men, and the arrests and prosecutions of such acts swept up a great many people, including public figures like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing.
As of 2012, living men arrested for such offenses in the past have been able to apply to have their names cleared through a “disregard process,” but as of today, only 84 of the 335 received applications ever received has been granted.
The Justice Minister’s plan to ‘pardon’ those convicted of these ludicrous “crimes” does not go so far as to admit any wrongdoing by the British government, but instead excuses their crimes in an official way. The thing is – what good is excusing a crime that really didn’t occur? What is the value of the government officially pardoning these men for – in essence – being gay?
Without an official apology, or admission of wrongdoing, all this pardon does is state that “these things used to be against the law, and now they aren’t. So if you got arrested for them and were convicted, now it’s like that never happened.” But it doesn’t make any of this go away. It doesn’t mitigate the shame and public humiliation (which lead some, like Turing, to eventually take their own lives) of being taken in simply for having sex that HRH disagreed with. It was encouraging then, to read that some didn’t meet the announcement with enthusiasm:
“I was not guilty of anything,” George Montague, 93, a gay activist and author who lives in Brighton, England and was convicted in the 1970s of gross indecency, told the BBC program “Newsnight.” “I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. My name was on the ‘queer list,’ which the police had in those days. And I will not accept a pardon.”
Mr. Montague described Turing as a hero, but said he opposed the posthumous pardon. “What was he guilty of?” Mr. Montague asked. “He was guilty of the same as what they call me guilty of: being born only able to fall in love with another man.”
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