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Scottish Parliament unanimously passes gay pardon law

Amy West June 6, 2018
A same-sex couple holding hands, representing the gay couples who met online

A same-sex couple holding hands. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Scottish Parliament has unanimously passed a new law that will see thousands of gay and bisexual men, both living and dead, be formally pardoned.

It will also allow those who have criminal conviction records – from before consensual sex between men was decriminalised in the country – to apply to have them legally lifted so that they no longer appear on record checks for employment or volunteering.

According to the Scottish government, it is estimated that around 25 men will likely do so over the next five years despite there being hundreds living with said convictions today.

Same-sex sexual activity between men over 21 was only decriminalised in Scotland in 1981, despite it happening over a decade before then in both Wales and England. Surprisingly, sex between women was never targeted by the laws.

Sexual life - gay couple on the bed
Consensual sex between men was only decriminalised in Scotland in February 1981

It wasn’t until 2001 that the age of consent for gay men was lowered to 16.

Prior to the aforementioned laws changing, it was illegal for men to engage in sexual activity in private, kiss in public or even flirt with other men.

The passing of this new law marks the third stage for the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill. Since its introduction by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, on 6 November 2017, it has been widely supported by across several government parties.

Just a few months ago, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued an “unequivocal apology” to those who had been “convicted as criminals, simply for loving another adult”.

 

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 19: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the assembled crowd at Glasgow Pride on August 19, 2017 in Glasgow, Scotland. The largest festival of LGBTI celebration in Scotland is held every year in Glasgow since 1996. (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)
When the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill was published in November 2017, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued an apology to those convicted of same-sex sexual activity (Getty)

Talking about the new law, Director of the Equality Network, Tim Hopkins said: “We very much welcome the Parliament passing this bill. This is concrete recognition of the huge harm that was done to people who were prosecuted or lived under these old laws.

“Together with the First Minister’s public apology in the Parliament in November, the message is that Scotland has changed for good, and that discrimination is no longer acceptable.

“The next stage will be to implement and publicise the new law. Publicity will be crucial so that all those affected by these historical convictions get to hear about it. LGBTI people continue to face prejudice and hostility, and there is much more to do.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government, on the forthcoming reform of the Gender Recognition Act for trans people, and other work to address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and to promote fairness for all.”

Director of Stonewall Scotland Colin Macfarlane (not pictured) “hopes this will help many draw a line, once and for all, under a dark period in [Scotland’s] history” (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Similarly, Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland said: “The fact MSPs have unanimously passed the Bill is to be warmly welcomed. This will provide justice for gay and bi men convicted of historic offences.

“We thank all those MSPs who spoke up for LGBT rights in the debate today and to all the individuals who have campaigned over many years to make this moment a reality   We hope this will now help many draw a line, once and for all, under a dark period in our history.”

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