On Thursday, the German parliament voted to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men indicted and sentenced for homosexuality, under a Nazi-era law that remained in force even after the World War II. About 5,000 of these people are estimated by the German ministry of justice to be alive and living with a criminal record under paragraph 175 of German Criminal Code. Their convictions will be rescinded, and a lump sum of 3,000 Euros, along with another 1,500 Euros for each year spent in prison, would be granted as compensation.
The vote marked a huge victory for the victims and the activists who had been lobbying for it tirelessly. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that the decision was a “belated act of justice,” adding that the state had a great debt, Deutsche Welle reported. “The norm created unimaginable suffering, which led to self-denial, sham marriages, harassment and blackmail”, he said.
According to the DW report, lawmaker Helmut Metzner, who sits on the federal board of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, said that the decision marked a historical step forward by giving back dignity to a portion of victims of state persecution.
The criminalisation of homosexuality was enforced under the Nazi government, which captured and sent homosexuals to prison or concentration camps for ten years of forced labour.
Paragraph 175 outlawed “sexual acts contrary to nature … be it between people of the male gender or between people and animals” (Sex between women was not discussed under it, and therefore was never illegal). While East Germany successfully got rid of this toxic tenet by the late 1960s, it survived in West Germany for much longer and was not completely struck down till 1994 — four years after German reunification, leading to thousands of convictions over the decades.
“More than two decades after article 175 was finally wiped from the books, this stain on democratic Germany’s legal history has been removed,” Sebastian Bickerich, of the government’s anti-discrimination office in a statement to the Guardian.
A similar step was taken by Britain earlier this year in January, wherein thousands of men convicted under laws outlawing homosexuality were fully exonerated and the policy was named in the honor of Alan Turing, the British mathematician and World War II codebreaker who was convicted in 1952 and chemically castrated for having sexual relations with another man.
The German parliament vote also empowers the Social Democrats, three months ahead of general elections in autumn, when they are likely to push for a further liberal stance on gay rights. Germany legalised same sex partnership in 2001, but stopped short of allowing full marriage rights, including child adoption. The latter is common in many EU member states where gay and lesbian couples can marry and adopt like heterosexual couples.