Germany votes to quash 50,000 historic gay sex convictions

23 Jun, 2017
The German parliament has voted to annul the convictions of 50,000 men sentenced for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law.

The law remained in place after World War II, and article 175 of the penal code was estimated to have been used to convict 50,000 men.

It is estimated that 5,000 of those found guilty under the law are still alive.

The Bundestag lower house of the German parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a measure to quash the convictions.

Those convicted would be paid €3,000 (£2,600), and any who were imprisoned would receive in addition €1,500 for each year spent behind bars.

Article 175 criminalised “sexual acts contrary to nature… be it between people of the male gender or between people and animals”.

Same-sex sexual activities between women were not specifically criminalized.

Despite being in place from 1871, the law was rarely used, but under Nazi rule thousands of men were convicted and sentences were toughened to 10 years of forced labour.
Over 42,000 men were convicted under the Third Reich and were sent either to prison or to concentration camps.

“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, said in a statement.

Speaking to AFP, one man, Fritz Schmehling, 74, said he was convicted as a teenager.
“Back then, you lived with one foot in prison,” he told the news agency, adding that he wished his late partner Bernd, who died in 2011, had lived to see the convictions quashed.
“He told me, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever see the day these convictions are lifted’. I think he would have been as happy as when the Berlin Wall fell.”

The process to quash these convictions began in May, and follows the UK’s move earlier this year to pardon thousands of men under Turing’s Law.

Germany initially banned gay sex in 1871, when a penal code was introduced criminalising homosexual acts. This law was extended under the Nazis to convict thousands of gay men and send them to concentration camps.

The laws were not repealed in West Germany after the fall of the Nazis, and many of the persecuted gay men were not cleared.

Homosexuality was not legalised until 1968 and 1969 in East and West Germany respectively. The age of consent was finally equalised in 1989.

The legislation comes after pressure from LGBT organisations in the country, who have urged the changes to be brought in quickly – so that some of the men will see their names cleared in their lifetimes.

But also this week it was announced that Germany’s parliament will not vote on same-sex marriage, despite an overwhelming majority of citizens supporting full equality.