Well, no, not really

In the years that followed 1967 the number of convictions for gross indecency, an offence that could only be committed by consenting gay men, doubled.

The actual offence was gross indecency between men. So, it seems reasonable enough that it only applied to men.

Whether there should have been such an offence is entirely another matter but that, as defined, it only applied to men seems just fine.

11 thoughts on “Well, no, not really”

  1. The law at the time was don’t do this or you will get nicked.
    Some men did this and were nicked.
    Later, the law was changed.
    Why do people who commit acts that were illegal at the time get a pardon ?
    Allowing posthumous pardon for convictions that were sound at the time opens the door for retroactive legislation, acts that were legal at the time now being subject to criminal penalties.

  2. It feels wrong to criminalise people in the past who smoked in the work place, administered laudanum to their babies, took cocaine eye drops. We kind of automatically think – they did nothing wrong it was law of the land and socially acceptable at the time. No one would bother to organise a call for an act of conviction on behalf of the passive smokers, the dopey babies, and the grieving queens. Then reverse it, so something that was unacceptable and illegal but now is acceptable and legal, and its strange how people then split into those whose instinct to think that was then is preserved and others who feel strongly enough to spend time and effort trying to get pardons and apologies which don’t change the course of anyone’s life or how they are regarded by future generations.

  3. When I was growing up in rural Lancashire in the early 60s, there were two men sharing a house at the end of my road. I thought of them as elderly, but as I was only 10 or so, they could well have been in their 40s.

    I’ve no idea what went on behind their lace curtains, but no-one locally ever commented on them or shunned them and there was never any question of criminality. I have the feeling (but no evidence) that most of the convictions back in the day were for propositioning in public conveniences, plus the very occasional socially unaware/autistic type blurting out their sexual preferences to the cops (cf Turing).

  4. CM, it also depended on the whims of the Chief Constable. The old law was repealed in Scotland years after the repeal in England; amongst other reasons, pressure had been less because the bobbies largely turned a blind eye. Then a new CC became enthusiastic about arresting the buggers (a severe case of Christianity, IIRR), and repeal followed.

  5. In the event drug-taking is decriminalised, will everyone previously convicted be pardoned?

    And before too many people get too pleased with themselves about something being ‘fair-doos’ because it was ‘the law’ at the time, so was dispossessing Jews of their property and exterminating them during the time of the National Socialist Government of Germany.

    Legislation is not ‘law’, and does not get a free pass just because it was in effect at a given period of time at the behest of the political slime of the day.

    However retrospective quashing of convictions is not necessarily the right thing to do, even if the legislation was unjust..

  6. “plus the very occasional socially unaware/autistic type blurting out their sexual preferences to the cops (cf Turing).”

    Turing wasn’t unaware – although he was perhaps less concerned about it than he ought to have been.

    Turing was involved in a several months long affair with another younger man, who evidently mentioned the relationship to one of his disreputable friends. That friend – apparently figuring that he’d not report it to the police because of the relationship – came round and burgled Turing’s house, stealing a number of items. Turing came to suspect his boyfriend knew something about it, and eventually the boyfriend confessed that he knew who had done it. Turing passed the information on to the police, but made no mention of the relationship or where he got the information. It was only under further questioning by the police about the source of the information that it came out.

    Turing was well aware of the illegality, but assumed that given his work colleagues knew about it but hadn’t shopped him, it was one of those laws that wasn’t strongly enforced. Burglary, on the other hand, clearly was. Unfortunately, a bunch of old university dons and military officers are a far more tolerant bunch than your average street-level piggy-eyed rozzer, and he got prosecuted.

    What do you do when you think the law is immoral? Follow the law, or morality?

    Seeking retrospective apologies is mostly about generating publicity for the cause, and partly about soothing people’s hurt feelings. Sometimes it heals divisions, sometimes it just keeps old grudges going.

    “The actual offence was gross indecency between men. So, it seems reasonable enough that it only applied to men.”

    I think the issue here is that there was no corresponding offence of gross indecency between women. The law was therefore sexist.

  7. Regarding drug laws there has certainly been a call in Canada where they are decriminalising marijuana to both stop arresting people under the existing law as it’s due to be replaced and to quash or pardon old convictions.
    I suspect the pardon thing is partly due to the US not allowing entry if there’s a drug conviction, which could soon lead to the wonderful situation that having done something that is legal in Washington state and BC stops you moving between the two. Also border is federal so possession even for personal use is likely to be illegal as far as US border control is concerned

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Matthew L – “The key word there is “consenting”.”

    No, the key dishonesty there is the word “consenting”. The law did not require consent. The word does not appear in the text of the law I believe. It is very vague about what the crime actually is.

    And it could be committed against a child so either the author is lying, knowingly or otherwise, or he is a paid up member of the NAMBLA club.

  9. “The law did not require consent. The word does not appear in the text of the law I believe.”

    True. But the law was primarily aimed at people who did consent.

    It’s the Labouchere Amendement, which was inserted at the last minute into the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, an Act that was otherwise devoted to protecting young girls from sexual assault and prostitution.

    Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with an other male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.

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