By: Hon Howard Quayle MHK, Chief Minister
Mr Speaker, as Chief Minister I am incredibly proud of what this administration has achieved so far. There is though, much more still to do.
A key part of our programme is legislation – some of which has been technical, designed to maintain our international reputation.
Some legislation, such as the Bill before us today, seeks not only to protect the people of this Island but acts as a reflection of the society we are today.
As parliamentarians we know that we must always strive to represent the views of our constituents.
That includes the laws we make which should resonate with our people and the values that we hold.
Mr Speaker, it now seems incomprehensible that homosexuality was illegal on our Island until 1994.
There was a time when consensual sexual activity between men in the privacy of their own homes was seen as a criminal activity, warranting raids, searches and prosecution.
And this was only in our recent history.
Before that, many of our countrymen were convicted as criminals, simply for loving another adult.
Many more lived in fear. Afraid to be honest about their identity to their friends, family and work colleagues. Forced to feel a sense of shame about who they were.
We will never know the hurt our past laws may have inflicted on our own people. How many suffered; how many perhaps took their own lives; and how many left their Island never to return.
The Bill before us today tries to right this historic wrong.
It gives an automatic pardon to men convicted of homosexual activity that would today be legal.
Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court once wrote:
"Times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought of as necessary and proper in fact only served to oppress."
And so a pardon is a step toward reconciling our past.
But it is also a clear statement of who we are as a society today.
A society which includes and embraces all people regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion or belief.
We are an Island where the LGBT+ community is not only accepted, but embraced as a part of who we are as a nation.
Mr Speaker, a change in our law is a major step forward, but today I wish to go further.
Our previous laws discriminated against and criminalised men solely for who they were and who they loved.
What we seek to do through this Bill is to clearly state that our previous laws were misguided and wrong.
The previous law reflected a different time, a different place. An Island of the past.
Those who were convicted of these crimes, and their loved ones, should no longer have to shoulder the burden of guilt. They should be seen as innocent.
All those people affected - the men themselves, their partners, wider family and friends – they deserve an unqualified apology from us.
That apology can only come from the Government and from this House.
Our justice system followed the laws we made. Our police and courts enforced the law at the time. Those laws we know now to be unjust.
Yet for decades this house tolerated and ignored this injustice.
Mr Speaker, today as Chief Minister I stand before you, before this House, and before the people of our Island to apologise for those laws; for the damage they may have caused and the lives they ruined.
I am sorry for that wrong.
Nothing I or we can do can erase past injustice.
But I hope, Mr Speaker, that this apology, together with the new legislation before us, can at least start to heal some of the pain caused by past attitudes and decisions.
Whilst we try to make amends for the past, we also have to consider the present effects of previous laws.
Some of our family, friends and work colleagues still have a criminal record. This remnant of a previous era continues to cause people shame and hurt.
That is why, at the same time as we propose an automatic pardon for all, this Bill allows for individuals to apply to have any convictions which are no longer considered offences to be removed from their criminal record.
I hope this will go some way to putting the past behind us, and allow those affected to plan for a better future.
Over the past decades our Island has changed in many ways. We have become more inclusive, more equal and more open about who we are.
The Isle of Man now celebrates and respects same-sex relationships and marriage and civil partnerships. Our police force and judiciary continue to strive for inclusion.
Mr Speaker, I am very proud to look around this House and see it has become far more representative of the people we serve. And that change will continue.
The challenge of equality for all must be seized and we must work tirelessly to banish all forms of discrimination and injustice from our Island.
As a spokesperson for the Manx Rainbow Association previously stated:
"We cannot move forward without recognising and understanding our recent past."
Mr Speaker, I hope that today we can move forward with the LGBT+ community.
I recognise that this is a small step on that journey, but I hope that it can be seen as a step in the right direction. Because it is only together that we can challenge prejudice and ignorance.
And it is only together that we are stronger, calling out hate and speaking up for those who do not have a voice.
I am truly sorry for the hurt caused in the past so now let us look together to our future as a modern, progressive and tolerant Island.