Turing Law


I just read that the British Parliament is moving forward with a bill which will pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of homosexuality. (The actual crimes they were charged with ranged from buggery and gross indecency to loitering with intent, most of which are no longer on the books.

The law, named the Turing Law, will also give pardons posthumously, and its passage is not without controversy. Some LGBT advocacy groups don’t think it goes far enough, since it requires a case-by-case review instead of a blanket pardon, and others say a pardon is the wrong solution since it implies wrongdoing on the part of those who were convicted. As one of the men who would be pardoned under the law said, “I wasn’t guilty of anything.”

I see their point, and I agree “pardon” is probably the wrong word. I’d like something more on the lines of what the judge said in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison when Harriet Vane was absolved of the crime she’d been charged with: “The Crown, by withdrawing this dreadful charge against you, has demonstrated your innocence in the clearest possible way. After this, nobody will be able to suppose that the slightest imputation rests upon you, and I most heartily congratulate you on this very satisfactory ending to your ordeal.”
But even given the problems with calling it a pardon and the fact that living individuals will have to apply for pardons rather than having it given to them automatically, I hope the Turing Law goes into effect because of all the people who will have their names cleared under it, including those who will be pardoned posthumously.

The law’s named after Alan Turing, who, in case you haven’t seen The Imitation Game,
cracked Germany’s Enigma code, designed the modern computer, was a major reason we won World War II–and was convicted on homosexuality charges in 1952 and forced to undergo chemical castration, which led directly to his suicide. But he won’t be pardoned under the law. Turing was already officially pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, and the government has apologized for its shameful treatment of him.

But Oscar Wilde hasn’t been pardoned or apologized to. Oscar was one of late Victorian England’s most brilliant writers, one of its most popular lecturers (he even came to Leadville, Colorado, where he gave a speech to a wildly enthusiastic bunch of miners), and the wittiest man in London, delivering such lines as “I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability,” and, “Always forgive your enemies–nothing annoys them so much,” and, “All of us live in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
He was the most famous writer of his time, the most popular, and the most quoted–none of which kept him from being convicted of sodomy (for having an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, who had a vengeful father) and being sentenced to two years’ hard labor, during most of which he was forbidden to have pen and paper.

And lest you’re thinking, “But what’s the point of pardoning him now? You can’t change what’s already happened. It’s too little, too late, and this won’t help Oscar. He’s long dead, and it’s all water under the bridge anyway,” here’s what Oscar wrote about his being transferred from the Hospital Ward of Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol:

“On November 13, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the Hospital Ward without a moment’s notice being given to me. Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me, they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed, they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.”

You’re right–a pardon won’t fully make up for what was done to him. But it’s still something. And it’s never too late to try to make amends for past wrongs.

So here’s to the Turing Law! May it make up a little for what you had to endure, Oscar.
Connie Willis

{editor’s note – information on what actually happened in Parliment can be found here  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing_law )


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