Sunday 19 January 2020

Here's why literary genius Oscar Wilde may miss out on posthumous 'pardon' for gays

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde

Jill Lawless

Thousands of men who were convicted under now-abolished British laws against homosexuality are to receive posthumous pardons.

Those who are still alive can will be eligible to have their criminal records wiped clean.

The Ministry of Justice said the pardons apply to men convicted for consensual same-sex sexual relations before homosexuality was decriminalised several decades ago.

Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said the government was trying "to put right these wrongs."

"It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today," he said.

Many gay rights campaigners welcomed the announcement. Others said they wanted an apology, not a pardon.

However, the infamous conviction of Oscar Wilde may not be included in the pardons.

The playwright was convicted for gross indecency in 1895 and imprisoned for two years.

His crime is no longer considered illegal and as such he would be entitled to a pardon.

But there is confusion as to whether Wilde also had liaisons with under-age boys. Witness statements prepared for his libel case claimed he was found in bed with a boy of about 14.

If it is decided that Wilde was guilty of gross indecency with a child, he will not be eligible for a pardon.

Sex between men remained illegal in England until 1967 - and even later in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The age of consent for gay people in the UK was not lowered to 16, the same as for heterosexuals, until 2001.

Calls for a general pardon have been building since World War II codebreaker Alan Turing was awarded a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.

The computer science pioneer helped crack Nazi Germany's secret codes by creating the "Turing bombe," a forerunner of modern computers.

After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones.

He died in 1954 at age 41 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

A few other countries, including Canada and New Zealand, are considering pardons for people convicted under now-repealed laws against gay sex.

Gay-rights advocacy groups in the United States said they knew of no US state which had contemplated similar action.

However, the US military - after lifting a ban that prevented gays from serving openly in the ranks - adopted a policy which enabled gay soldiers who had been forced out to upgrade their discharges from dishonourable to honourable.

Irish Independent

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