Earlier this week, MPs in the House of Commons debated a bill which called for pardoning thousands of gay men for ‘crimes’ committed before the laws against homosexuality were changed.
Despite emotional scenes in Parliament from MPs speaking on the matter, the bill has fallen at its first hurdle after minister Sam Gyimah filibustered for 25 solid minutes before proceedings came to an unsatisfying end.
Dubbed the ‘Turing bill’ after Alan Turing, the scientist who played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Nazis is the Second World War – the bill was to be the biggest leap forward for the LGBT community since the introduction of marriage equality. Alan Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts and treated with chemical castration to dodge a prison sentence, and ‘officially’ died of suicide by cyanide poisoning two years later – although the jury is still out on that one (it remains an enigma – see what I did there?).
Following Turing’s posthumous pardon in 2013 by the Queen, the success of the bill thus far has been thanks to John Nicholson MP, who had secured government support for the bill.
I personally, however, believe that there is an inherent moral issue with the bill itself. To pardon gay men who were convicted of sex crimes, in my book, is basically saying “although you committed a crime at the time, we are gonna let you off”. That’s what a pardon is, right? A kind of patronising “never mind” and a once again clean criminal record. I don’t believe that that is the issue.
The issue is that homosexuality, and therefore subsequent acts, were a crimes in the first place. I mean, that’s why they changed the law – because it shouldn’t have been illegal. The LGBT community doesn’t need a pardon. It doesn’t need to hear ‘we will no longer see you as a criminal’. It needs to hear an apology – ‘we shouldn’t have seen you as a criminal in the first place’.
That’s not to say that the Turing bill isn’t worthwhile. Far from it – I believe that the work Mr Nicholson has put into this bill is as valuable as it is overdue. But part of me can’t help but think that we need to aim for the moon and land among the stars on this issue. Maybe if we demand an apology in the form of a bottle of red wine and a dozen red roses, we will actually receive a handshake and a downward look of ‘oh shit – I really shouldn’t have said that’.
So the bill has failed. What next, eh? Well, the government will support an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Act by Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey, who has been calling for a similar measure for quite some time now. The key difference between the two is that Sharkey’s amendment would only pardon those who are now deceased, such as Turing, and not affect those who are still living – whereas Nicholson’s bill would have granted those still living with convictions automatic pardons.
Indeed it is a shame to see such a bill with such cross party support being trodden all over by a political manoeuvre which is essentially just to talk for so long that nobody else can. But all is not lost. There is still parliamentary change happening. And if the history of the LGBT community shows us one thing, it is that the community keeps chipping away until it gets what it wants.
In 1966, two men regardless of their age were committing an offence by being together. Fifty years later, they can champion their love as freely, legally and proudly as any other couple. That’s called progress. That’s called results. And that’s called refusing to be judged because somebody who you don’t know doesn’t like you because you’re something that they’re not.
These pardons will come – to all who were convicted, living and dead. And so will the apologies. Of course they will. I know they will. How will I know? Because they LGBT community is still yet to lose a fight.