A BILL allowing men who were convicted of historic gay sex crimes to clear the conviction from their criminal record was passed unanimously in the ACT Legislative Assembly recently.

Under the Spent Convictions (Historical Homosexual Convictions Extinguishment) Amendment Bill 2015, men will be able to apply to have their convictions permanently extinguished.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr believes the bill sends an important message to the gay community in the ACT.

“The discriminatory approach of past decades is no longer acceptable and continues this government’s commitment to removing the remaining vestiges of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality,” he told the Star Observer.

The scheme is administratively based, and will not require a person to go before a court when applying to have their conviction extinguished.

“The government recognises that loving, respectful relationships make a positive contribution to the community regardless of the gender of the parties,” Barr said.

Despite the unanimous passing of the bill, advocates such as Human Rights Law Centre advocacy director Anna Brown have suggested the government issue a formal apology as well.

“An important symbolic step the ACT Government could take is to commit to a formal state apology for the unjust and prejudiced laws against homosexual acts prior to decriminalisation,” Brown told the Star Observer.

“An apology would also benefit the LGBTI community who suffered, and continue to suffer, from stigma and marginalisation that was fostered by the criminalisation of homosexuality.”

Similar expungement schemes were legislated in Victoria and NSW last year, while South Australia introduced a spent convictions scheme in 2013 allowing consensual gay sex offences to be cleared from a person’s record after a certain number of crime-free years.

“It’s wonderful to see such strong support across the parliament in the ACT, which reflects the multipartisan way in which these reforms have been progressed in every jurisdiction so far,” Brown said.

“Now we just have to keep working towards change in the remaining states and territories.”

Currently no schemes are in place to allow gay men to expunge historical consensual sex convictions in Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, or the Northern Territory.

The ACT LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Council chair, Heidi Yates, believes the passing of the bill is a landmark event.

“For many years, discriminatory laws and prohibited consensual sexual relationships contributed to stigma and shame,” she told the Star Observer.

“Even once these laws were taken off the books, they left many individuals with the shame of a permanent criminal record.

“Such a record is a heavy personal burden that some individuals have had to carry throughout their lives… this act provides an opportunity for that burden to be lifted.”

The ACT was the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality in 1973, although it was not ratified by the Prime Minister until 1976.

Applicants wishing to have their conviction extinguished should contact Legal Aid ACT for assistance. For details call the Legal Aid ACT Helpline: 1300 654 314

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