Despite Scotland’s reputation today as one of the world’s most gay-friendly countries, the pace of reform of discrimination against gay people was initially very slow. It took until 1994 for the age of consent for gay men to be reduced from 21 to 18 and until 2001 for full legal equality to be granted when the age of consent was lowered to 16. A new law, introduced in the Scottish Parliament as : 'The Historical Sexual Offences (pardons and disregards) (Scotland) Bill'
, will now pardon men who were convicted under Scotland’s anti-gay legislation, which remained on the statute book until 1981, fourteen years after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales.
The new Bill means that thousands of gay men in Scotland, many of whom are now old or very old, who were prosecuted for having sex up to 36 years ago, will be automatically pardoned by the new Bill, which will also allow many to get previous convictions removed from their records. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, published the Bill at Holyrood on Tuesday and offered an 'Unqualified Apology' to those stigmatised and humiliated by the prosecutions and told Members of the Scottish Parliament “Within the lifetime of this Parliament, this nation’s laws created suffering and perpetrated injustice. The legislation we have published today addresses this injustice. Until we live in a world where no young person faces hate, fear and prejudice simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we still have work to do.”
The Bill mirrors moves to allow men in England and Wales, where an estimated 50,000 men were prosecuted, including 15,000 who are still alive, to request a pardon. In Scotland, pardons will be automatic, including posthumously and it goes beyond England and Wales with the issue of an apology which recognises for many old, gay men, whose lives were ruined by the British state, a pardon is not enough. Derek Ogg QC, a defence lawyer and expert in gay rights law, said : “When people apologise to you for doing something wrong to you it is rehabilitative. You feel vindicated. You can feel you have got your pride back.”
Northern Ireland remains the only part of Britain where pardons for historic offences have yet to be granted.
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