Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, issued a public apology today to gay men persecuted and humiliated during the period that homosexuality was a crime in the country.
“Within the lifetime of this parliament, this nation’s laws created suffering and perpetrated injustice,” Sturgeon told MSPs. “The legislation we have published today addresses this injustice.”
Full legal equality only came to Scotland in 2001, she conceded, when the age of consent was lowered to 16, putting it in line with the age of consent for heterosexuals.
The apology came as Sturgeon announced a bill that will automatically pardon anyone convicted before same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 1981, 14 years after it happened in England and Wales.
“Nothing that this parliament does can erase those injustices, but I do hope this apology, alongside our new legislation, can provide some comfort to those who endured those injustices,” Sturgeon added. “And I hope that it provides evidence of this parliament’s determination in so far as we can to address the harm that was done.”
In addition to pardoning those convicted, the measure will also allow men to apply to have convictions removed from their record if they need to for employment reasons.
An estimated 50 to 100 men were prosecuted for “gross indecency” every year in Scotland during the century it was a criminal offense. That number is proportionately lower than other parts of the UK, reports The Guardian, because Scottish law requires official corroboration, such as two witnesses. (Though gay men were often cited for loitering or other misdemeanors to get around that requirement.)
IGLA-Europe named Scotland the best country on the continent for LGBT people in 2015, but it hasn’t always been that way: Scotland was actually the last European nation to abolish the death penalty for same-sex intercourse, replacing it with life imprisonment in 1889.
As recently as 2003, the charge of “shameless indecency” was still on the books: In 1990, a 20-year-old gay man was prosecuted for kissing his partner after leaving a Glasgow nightclub. Now 47, the man still has to disclose his offense every time he applies for a job.
“Times have changed, and why should what happened 27 years ago still haunt me, for what was only a public display of affection?” he said.
Sturgeon’s speech brought tears to the eyes of many assembled in the public gallery, including Nick and Phil Duffy, below.