LGBTQ+ Pride Month

Scotland Will Pardon Thousands Of Gay Men Who Were Once Convicted Because Of Their Sexuality

It's a historic moment.

Scotland will pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were prosecuted for centuries after the Scottish Parliament passed the Historical Sexual Offenses (Pardons and Disregards) Bill on Wednesday. 

The bill calls for automatic pardons for any man who was charged for acting on same-sex attraction. Until 1981, consensual same-sex relationships in Scotland between two men were criminalized, and it took another 20 years for the country to equalize the age of consent for same and opposite sex partners.


"This bill can itself not right the massive injustice caused by laws that helped foster homophobia and hatred, criminalized acts between consenting adults, and stopped people from being themselves around their families, friends, neighbors and colleagues," Michael Matheson, justice secretary for the Scottish Parliament, said in a statement.

The BBC reported that the pardons bill applies to men only, because same-sex relationships between women were never formally criminalized. Previous laws went as far as targeting "flirting" between two men in public, NPR reported, which was known as importuning. The charity The Equality Network estimates the new law will result in the pardon of thousands of men.

Edinburgh, Scotland - June 17 2017: Flags waving at Pride March on the Edinburgh Cowgate  Oliver Wain /

"This legislation does send a clear message that these laws were unjust," Matheson added. "The wrong has been committed by the state, not by the individuals—the wrong has been done to them."

Formally convicted men, both living and dead, will receive a full pardon but will not have the conviction removed from their records. Anyone who was convicted previously will still show up in disclosure checks, according to the BBC. It would take an individual applying and the Scottish ministers approving a formal "disregard" to remove the criminal record. 

In January of last year, around 49,000 men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were pardoned from similar sexual offenses.

"The bill does a better job than the equivalent legislation in the rest of the UK.," Tim Hopkins, director the Equality Network, said in a statement. "Unlike that legislation, it provides an automatic pardon to people who are still alive, and also covers all the old discriminatory offences, including where men were prosecuted simply for chatting up other men — called 'importuning.'" 

Cover image via  Oliver Wain /


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.