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Germany to pardon & compensate thousands of gay men convicted under archaic law

Catch Team | Updated on: 23 March 2017, 19:31 IST
(Photo by Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Late in 2016, the UK government officially pardoned over 50,000 men who'd been convicted for being homosexual under an archaic law. Now, Germany is set to do something similar, and, in fact, is going beyond mere pardoning to offer compensation to the men affected.

The law responsible for this - Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, was first instituted in 1871 , but was truly enforced in Nazi-era Germany. In fact, while it was relaxed in 1969, and finally done away with altogether in 1996, this wasn't before almost 70,000 men were sentenced.

In 2000, the German parliament officially approved a resolution regretting the decision to retain the law after World War II. In 2002, they even annulled the convictions made during the Nazi-era. However, 50,000 men who'd been convicted in the decades between 1949 and 1969 did not receive the same treatment. Now, 15 years later, the German government is finally set to rectify this.

Pardon and compensation

Speaking to the press, Germany's Justice Minister showed strong support for the bill pardoning these men. “The rehabilitation of men who ended up in court purely because of their homosexuality is long overdue. They were persecuted, punished and ostracized by the German state just because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas.

On Wednesday, the bill was cleared by Angela Merkel's Cabinet, and is only awaiting parliamentary approval to come into effect.

Once cleared by parliament, the convictions of all men charged under paragraph 175 will be automatically annulled. This is a far more progressive move than even the UK's Turing Law that required those convicted to make formal applications. The annulments will not apply to men convicted of sex with minors, nor acts which involved violence or threats.

The most striking thing about the move, though, is the provision for compensation included in the bill. According to this, surviving victims of the law will be entitled to US $3,230 for their conviction, with an additional US $1,619 for every year of the sentence started. However, only around 5,000 men are eligible for this compensation as the rest have already passed away.

The LGBT reaction

The move has predictably been welcomed by the LGBT community, albeit with the reminder that it should have come a lot sooner.

Helmut Metzner, spokesperson for Germany's Lesbian and Gay Federation, stated that the organisation “welcomes the fact that, after long decades of ignorance, legal consequences are being drawn from the serious mass human rights violations that were committed against homosexual people by the democratic state.”

The move will also be more aligned with Germany's increasingly progressive values. In late 2016, a study by Dalia Research showed that Germany had the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population in Europe.


The research, conducted under the safeguard of anonymity, showed that 7.4% of Germany's population identified as LGBT. Their confidence in expressing their non-normative sexuality is representative of a new Germany, one that has done well to banish the terrible legacy of Paragraph 175.

First published: 23 March 2017, 19:08 IST