Briony Baldwin: Some freedoms are so young and fragile

Said a Labour government would pardon the 49,000 men convicted under gross indecency laws.
Said a Labour government would pardon the 49,000 men convicted under gross indecency laws.
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My daughter came home from Scouts this week buzzing about the issue of gay marriage.

If that’s not a sentence you thought you’d ever read, me either, but let me explain.

The local Scouts, which are fully integrated these days having swallowed up the boring Girl Guides, were hosting an election debate, and invited candidates from all the major parties, including our local Tory MP David Burrowes.

Before the meeting, our very progressive Scout leader, Samantha, gave the kids a potted history of the candidates, including Mr Burrowes’ outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage.

So my daughter Evie called him on it. “Why won’t you let gay people get married?”, she asked him. “Why is it anyone else’s business who marries who?” she complained, after Mr Burrowes had insisted that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and the Scouts had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Labour youth candidate.

And I thought, what a long way we’ve come. When I was at school in the 1980s, such a discussion would have been impossible. Under the now infamous Section 28 law, it was prohibited to “promote the teaching...of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” .

Just 20 years before that, homosexuality itself was illegal, and tens of thousands of gay men went to prison for the crime of having sex with a consenting adult in private.

This week, Ed Miliband – in an interview with Gay Times – declared that a Labour government would pardon the 49,000 men convicted under gross indecency laws, including those who died before the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 allowed them to apply to have their records expunged. It was “a matter of priority”, he said, to pardon all those who were convicted of an offence “simply because of the person they loved”. Yes, this was blatant political posturing on the eve of an election in the hope of winning ‘pink votes’, but I think it is right to draw a legal line in the sand on this.

The success of the film The Imitation Game – in which Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Alan Turing, the Bletchley Park codebreaker who helped Britain win the war, only to end his days in ignominy after being prosecuted for gross indecency – has shown a new generation the freedoms which we now take for granted are in fact very young and fragile.

And in a week when Islamic State executioners in Syria were shown throwing a young man off a high building for ‘suspected homosexuality’, that’s an important message.

All those Britons who have flown to Syria to join IS are collectively guilty of these medieval hate crimes. Any who attempt to return to Britain should be prosecuted. As political postures go, it’s a lot tougher than pardoning dead people,but we cannot celebrate how far we’ve come as a society unless we recognise how far we have to fall.