Back in 1952, mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing was convicted for gross indecency — the standard criminal charge for homosexuality. After his chemical castration, he killed himself by eating an apple laced with cyanide. Now, over 60 years later, he's set to be pardoned.
It's hard to assess the impact of Alan Turing. Not only did he contribute to the Church-Turing thesis (the suggestion that any real-world computation — including cognition — can be translated into an equivalent computation involving a Turing machine) and the Turing Test, he also played in incalculable role in World War II by cracking the Nazi's Enigma encryption machine.
But because he was gay, the UK chose not to celebrate him — but rather, to terrorize him.
Two years ago, the British government officially apologized for its homophobia, but his conviction remained on the books. Now, the government has said it would not stand in the way of pending legislation that would offer a full parliamentary pardon for Turing.
The Telegraph reports:
Last December Prof Stephen Hawking and other leading scientists wrote to The Daily Telegraph urging a pardon for Turing, whose work at Bletchley has been credited for hastening the end of the Second World War.
Speaking in the House of Lords on Friday, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a whip, said the Government would not stand in the way of a Bill brought by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, which offers Turing a full posthumous parliamentary pardon.
Speaking in the House of Lords shortly before the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill received an unopposed second reading, Lord Ahmad said: “Alan Turing himself believed that homosexual activity would be made legal by a Royal Commission.
“In fact, appropriately, it was Parliament which decriminalised the activity for which he was convicted.
“The Government therefore is very aware of the cause to pardon Turing given his outstanding achievement and therefore has great sympathy with the objective of the Bill.
“That is why the Government believes it is right that Parliament should be free to respond to this Bill in whatever way its conscience dictates, in whatever way Parliament so wills."
Of course, this is of little consolation to Turing, or the other 49,000 gay men who were convicted by the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act — a list of men that includes Oscar Wilde. Perhaps the bolder act would be to recognize those individuals as well.