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Petition calls for pardon of 49,000 men prosecuted under UK anti-sodomy law

In 2013, Nazi codebreaker Alan Turing was pardoned for violating England's anti-sodomy law. Now, gay rights advocates demand 49,000 other men receive the same.
The family of Alan Turing delivers a petition calling for a pardon for more than 49,000 British gay men convicted under historic anti-gay laws in the UK, Feb 23, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures/Corbis)
The family of WWII codebreaker Alan Turing delivers a petition signed by almost half a million people calling for a pardon for more than 49,000 British gay men convicted under historic anti-gay laws in the UK, Feb 23, 2015 in London, England.

Hours after Graham Moore took home an Academy Award Sunday for his adapted screenplay of “The Imitation Game” -- a film about gay mathematician Alan Turing, who broke the Nazi Enigma Code during World War II and invented digital computing -- gay rights advocates delivered a petition to the British government calling for officials to pardon the thousands of men who, like Turing, were prosecuted under England’s anti-sodomy law.

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“Each of these 49,000 men deserves the justice and acknowledgment from the British government that this intolerant law brought not only unwarranted shame, but horrific physical and mental damage and lost years of wrongful imprisonment to these men,” read a statement from Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of The Advocate who started the petition last month. It has since received more than half a million signatures, including those of Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Turing in the biopic, and co-star Keira Knightley. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances in the film.

Turing’s relatives delivered the petition to Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday, The Washington Post reported. In 2013, the Queen issued an official posthumous pardon to the Enigma codebreaker, who died of an apparent suicide in 1954 -- two years after he agreed to undergo chemical castration as punishment for violating England’s Labouchere Amendment, an anti-sodomny law that criminalized “gross indecency.” That amendment was repealed in 2003, nearly 120 years after its inception.

In a moving acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay Sunday, “The Imitation Game” screenwriter Graham Moore said Turing’s treatment at the hands of the country his work helped to save was “the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard.” Moore also spoke about why Turing’s story held particular meaning for him.

“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong,” said Moore, Oscar in hand, during the 87th Academy Awards. “And now I’m standing here, and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do -- you do. Stay weird, stay different. And then, when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass this message to the next person who comes along.”