The UK is to pardon nearly 50.000 Gay men convicted under the old homophobic laws.
If the victims of this law are already dead, these pardons are of no value whatsoever to the individuals concerned or to their living families. And, there are issues of principle associated with it. The individuals concerned broke the law as it was at the time, and we are all supposed to obey the law.
There’s a strong practical case for pardoning someone who is still alive and who has suffered from an unjust law. But there’s little moral case for pardoning someone who is dead. It just undermines the rule of law with no counterbalancing legitimate purpose to be weighed against the disadvantage of doing so.
In these circumstances there should be no pardons, save perhaps in the very rare circumstances such as Alan Turing, who did something very specific, intellectually heroic, of national significance, and who suffered more than others from the most monstrous abuse and injustice associated with this law. In his case the pardon is a kind of posthumous ‘thank you’. Like a ‘War Medal’.
It would be better for all concerned if society was left to permanently bear the shame and guilt of this vile homophobic law, and the injustice and misery it caused. ‘Gay’ people as a ‘Community’ do not need this pardon.
The gift we need is more substantial. We require that people of all sexualities (and none), races, and religions, or anything else, be treated with equal respect. These ‘pardons’ do no more than let society off the hook and afford ‘liberal’, self-indulgent, gesture politicians the privilege of congratulating themselves as to how generous and morally superior they’ve been in distributing ‘pardons’, which cost them nothing, and from which their own consciences are the sole beneficiaries.
I was, not so long ago, reading some biography of Margaret Thatcher (like you do), and I notice that when she was a barrister she defended a man who was being prosecuted under this law and its associated provisions. She also voted in Parliament to abolish it. In those two respects (particularly the former), she personally, did more to remedy the consequences of this law than the sum total of these, near 50,000 pardons, ever can.
That however is the history of mankind. Quiet individual acts of good, are forgotten. In Mrs Thatcher’s case she’s actually vilified as ‘homophobic’, on the grounds of the (admittedly misguided and in retrospect wrong), ‘Clause 28’. ‘Clause 28’ however, was as much an, inappropriate, over reaction against the activities of ‘Loony Left’ (as we used to call them) Local Education Authorities which were interested in everything other than actually teaching children academic knowledge. Mrs Thatcher and the parents who demanded it didn’t all simultaneously just wake up one morning in the 1980’s and think ‘Oh My God we must start victimising Gay People’.
‘Clause 28’ had to be directed at prohibiting the teaching of references to Gay people, specifically, because by it’s very nature, referring to Gay people in the classroom inevitably meant introducing the generality of sexual activity to young children. When you show a drawing of ‘Mummy and Daddy’ sitting up in bed, the idea of sex doesn’t come into the child’s mind. He just assumes that ‘Mummies and Daddies’ sleep in the same bed. When you show a drawing of two men in bed, the child asks questions, and the question of sexual activity in general, comes to the fore at an age when the parent of the child might not want it.
In retrospect I think that ‘Cause 28’ was an inappropriate over reaction to this dilemma, and I’m glad it’s gone and an apology to anyone affected by it wouldn’t go amiss. I voted Conservative at the time and I was in favour of ‘Clause 28’. So I apologise. At its heart ‘Clause 28’ DID proceed on the basis that relationships between Gay people are of less value than those between heterosexuals. But it was hardly a Human Rights issue comparable to the laws which caught Alan Turing, but which Mrs Thatcher herself, played at least a small part in bringing down, and, when she was a barrister, tried to mitigate on behalf of her client.
Amongst ‘liberals’, however, the idea that an individual can actively do practical good, is, at best, seen as irrelevant, and at worst, seen as reprehensible. Engaging in grand meaningless gestures which involve no effort, let alone self sacrifice, is a far more agreeable political hobby, and provides more opportunity for self promotion.