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victoria becomes first state to erase criminal records of gay men

Image: Gay News Network

Image: Gay News Network

Victoria will become the first state to erase the criminal record of men who were previously convicted of having gay sex before homosexuality was decriminalised in the state in 1981.

The state government announced the policy on Sunday at the launch of Midsumma, the state’s annual gay and lesbian event, to a crowd of over 90,000 people at Alexandra Garden. This announcement from premier Dennis Napthine comes ten months before the state election.

Prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, men who had consensual sex with other men were convicted of crimes such as ‘buggery’ and ‘gross indecency with a male person’, and as such, restricted them from travelling, volunteering or applying for certain jobs (such as teaching). This new policy will end decades of anxiety for countless men whose criminal convictions still remained in place.

Napthine has stated that ‘these convictions have been allowed to stand for far too long’ and have stigmatised people forced to live with a criminal record.

‘It is now accepted that consensual acts between two adult men should never have been a crime,’ Napthine stated. ‘The Liberal government, led by Sir Rupert Hamer, recognised this and decriminalised homosexual sex in the 1980s. We also recognise the social and psychological impacts that have been experienced by those who have historical convictions for acts which would no longer be a crime under today’s law.’

The changes follow similar laws recently introduced in Britain by conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, which allowed an estimated 16,000 convictions to be wiped from police records. Under the policy to be introduced, anyone with a historical conviction for an offence relating to homosexual acts would be able to apply to have their conviction expunged, provided the offence is not a crime under current legislation. While there is little public data about the number of arrests and prosecutions that took place prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, experts believe that thousands of convictions could have taken place given the era; a time in which gays were often ‘witch-hunted’ or entrapped by police.

The legislation to be introduced this year in Victoria will pave the way for a showdown between the state Coalition and Labor over the so-called ‘pink vote’.

Human Rights Law Centre director Anna Brown has said that it was ‘extremely pleasing to see the…government showing leadership on this issue.’ Labor spokesperson Martin Foley also welcomed changing the law, but stated that it ‘sits uncomfortably’ with Napthine’s ‘long-held opposition’ to gay rights.

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