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Gay pardons bill passes first parliamentary hurdle

MSPs unanimously backed the general principles of the proposed law to automatically pardon gay men of historical discriminatory convictions.

Legislation to pardon gay men convicted under historical discriminatory laws has passed its first stage at Holyrood.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill, which was given unanimous backing by MSPs at stage one, “sends a clear message that to those affected by these laws that they were unjust”.

The Bill will automatically pardon gay men convicted under historical discriminatory laws and will also allow them to apply for past convictions of this nature to be legally disregarded or removed from criminal records.

Mr Matheson told Parliament: “For people convicted of offences for engaging in same-sex sexual activity that is now legal, the wrong has been committed by the state, and not by those individuals.

“I am under no illusion that this Bill, or any legislation, can in itself right the massive injustice caused by these discriminatory laws that criminalised the act of loving another adult, deterred people from being open about who they are to family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues and, by sending a message that Parliament considered that homosexuality was wrong, encouraged homophobia and hatred.

“However, through the pardon the Bill sends a clear message to those who were affected by these laws that they were unjust and, through the establishment of a disregard scheme, we can ensure that people do not continue to suffer discrimination as a result of such convictions being disclosed to potential employers or to organisations for whom they wish to undertake voluntary work.”

Tory equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells said the Bill gave Holyrood the opportunity to “draw a line” under laws which outlawed consensual homosexual acts.

She hailed the legislation as a “milestone” and said it sends out a signal about Scotland being a “world leader in LGBTI equality”.

Her comments were echoed by Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton, who added: “This Bill is our opportunity to say to those men who have felt compelled to live in the shadows for who they were, step forward. Step forward and be recognised, your country is profoundly sorry for what it did to you.”

Labour’s Mary Fee said: “As recently as 1980 men could be prosecuted based on their sexual orientation, a man could be prosecuted for expressing love for another man. Not only were all forms of sexual activity deemed to be illegal but all expressions were also curbed, such as kissing in public places, which could be prosecuted as it was classified as a ‘gross indecency’.

“Through this repressive, regressive legal system, the courts in Scotland criminalised and discriminated against thousands of men on the basis of their sexual orientation. This was unequivocally wrong.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie welcomed it as “an important step in a very long journey” to greater equality.

He said: “There has been much progress but it has been by no means an easy journey, and every step of the way the case for equality has been fought against.”

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