Biden to Pardon US Service Members Convicted Because They Were Gay

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden will issue a proclamation giving mass clemency to US service members convicted of charges under a Cold War-era purge of gay and lesbian people, reversing a decades-long policy of discrimination that forced an estimated 100,000 people from the military.

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The pardons will be effective with the signing of the proclamation Wednesday, but individual veterans would need to apply to the Department of Defense for a certificate confirming the decision, according to administration officials familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail them.

The action coincides with Pride Month. White House officials on Tuesday said Biden thought the time was right to correct a historic wrong and the timing wasn’t related to electoral politics.

But they also said the action demonstrated Biden’s commitment to a climate of inclusion and respect in the military and his administration, beginning with his reversal of former President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender service members in his first week in office.

A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll of battleground states shows Biden leading Trump among LGBTQ voters by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio.

It’s unclear how many veterans would be eligible for Biden’s amnesty, but officials expect the number to be in the thousands. An estimated 100,000 service members were discharged because of their sexual orientation, although not all were subject to courts martial.

Many details of eligibility — and its impact on recipients — would need to be worked out on a case-by-case basis. Purging the court-martial convictions could allow many veterans to seek a review of their dishonorable discharges, allowing them to receive back pay and veterans benefits as part of a separate process.

Most of the pardoned offenses would fall under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibited “unnatural carnal copulation” from 1951 through 2013. But officials said the pardon could also apply to related offenses like insubordination, so each case would have to be evaluated separately.

Beginning in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, LGBTQ Americans were barred from serving in federal government posts, a period known as the “Lavender Scare.” Unfounded fears that LGBTQ employees posed a national security threat led to thousands of workers being investigated and forced from their jobs in the following decades.

It’s the second time Biden has used mass amnesty, even as he’s been historically stingy in granting pardons for individual offenders. In 2022, he granted “full, unconditional and categorical pardon” to anyone convicted of simple marijuana possession.

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