First Minister apologises to gay men for laws criminalising same sex relationships

Written by Jenni Davidson on 7 November 2017 in News

The apology came as the Scottish Government published legislation pardoning gay men convicted for sexual offences under historical laws

Nicola Sturgeon - Image credit: Parliament TV

The First Minister has apologised to gay men who were convicted of sex offences under historical laws that criminalised same-sex relationships.

Nicola Sturgeon said that nothing could “erase those injustices”, but she hoped the apology could provide “some comfort” as well as showing the Scottish Parliament’s determination to address the harm that had been done.

The First Minister’s apology came as the Scottish Government published new legislation that will automatically pardon gay and bisexual men criminalised under historical anti-gay laws.

The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill will also allow men who have convictions for same-sex activity that is now legal to apply to have the offences removed from criminal records.


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The law should not have treated them as criminals, the First Minister said, and instead, parliament recognised that a wrong was done to them.

Consensual sexual acts between men were only decriminalised in Scotland in 1981 and the age of consent was not brought into line with that of heterosexual relationships until 2001.

Sturgeon said: “A pardon is, of course, the correct legal remedy to apply for the convictions we are talking about today – but the term ‘pardon’ might still, to some people, imply that parliament sees them as having done something wrong.

“That is, after all, a common context in which a pardon might be granted.

“However, as all of us know, that is not the case here.

“For people convicted of same sex sexual activity which is now legal, the wrong has been committed by the state, not by the individuals.

“Those individuals deserve an unqualified apology, as well as a pardon.

“That apology can only come from the government and from parliament – not from the justice system.

“After all, the courts, prosecutors and the police were enforcing the law of the time.”

She added: “So today, categorically and wholeheartedly, as First Minister I apologise for those laws, and for the hurt and the harm that they caused. 

“Nothing this parliament does can erase those injustices.

“But I hope that this apology, alongside our new legislation, can provide some comfort to those who endured them.

“And I hope that it provides evidence of this parliament’s determination, in so far as we can, to address the harm that has been done.”

The First Minister’s apologies were welcomed and echoed by other parties in the chamber.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said that many apologies are offered “through gritted teeth” following a period of acrimony, diversion, hidden truth or a scandal.

“This apology is very different,” she said. “It’s offered with warmth and in the spirit of love and inclusion.

“It takes a deep breath and a big heart to say sorry for mistakes of the past. 

“An even bigger heart when those errors are not your own.

“So I offer the congratulations and gratitude of these benches to the government for stepping up and saying sorry today.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said it was right to apologise for the harm caused.

She said: “It is right that we find ourselves at this place today.

“It is right that men who committed no offence beyond falling in love, whose consensual commitment can now be recognised publically, can even be formalised through partnerships and marriage have their records wiped clean.

“It is right that we apologise for the harm caused and I add my unequivocal and wholehearted apology to that of the First Minister.”

The bill itself has already been welcomed by campaigners.

Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, said: “This very welcome bill will be of direct importance to hundreds of people with past criminal convictions for the kinds of relationships that were perfectly legal for their heterosexual friends.

“More widely, it is a clear statement that Scotland considers the discrimination of the past to be wrong and unacceptable, and now understands LGBTI people to be equal citizens who deserve equal respect.”

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