Starting today, Scotland will automatically pardon anyone convicted under outdated anti-LGBTQ+ laws in past decades.
Queer people were routinely arrested and charged with sexual offenses in Scotland until so-called “morality laws” were repealed in 1980. Even activities like kissing in public or having sex in private could subject victims to arrest, under an offense then called “importuning,” more commonly called “solicitation” in the U.S.
Despite the law’s repeal, those convictions remained on the books for decades. But as of Tuesday, those records will be wiped clean, thanks to the recently-passed Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Act. The reforms in Scotland do not include reparations, as Germany’s did.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also apologized for the convictions when Scotland’s reforms were originally signed into law in 2017.
"Today, categorically and wholeheartedly, as first minister I apologise for those laws, and for the hurt and the harm that they caused," she said. "[…] I hope that this apology, alongside our new legislation, can provide some comfort to those who endured them."
But hurdles remain for clearing arrest records. Victims of historic police harassment will have to apply online to have their names cleared.
The reform was hailed by organizers. Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, told the BBC that "hundreds of men in Scotland were sent to prison for consensual adult relationships.”
"Nothing can undo the harm of centuries of homophobic discrimination," he said, "but at least the state now acknowledges that it was the law that was wrong, and the people convicted under it did nothing wrong."
England enacted similar reforms in 2017, passing what’s now called “The Turing Law,” after the engineering hero Alan Turing, whose government turned on him after learning he was gay. Turing was posthumously pardoned in 2013, nearly 60 years after his death.
In England and Wales, fewer than 200 people had received a pardon, since the Turing Law is so narrowly written so as to exclude many convictions from being eligible. Importuning, for example, is not eligible for a pardon under that law.