Biden to pardon veterans convicted under former military law banning gay sex

President Biden on Wednesday will pardon thousands of former U.S. service members given military convictions over a 60-year period under a law that banned gay sex, senior administration officials confirmed.

The pardon grants clemency to veterans who were convicted under the former Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 125, a law that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults from 1951 to 2013 before being rewritten by Congress. Biden’s pardon will also affect people convicted of attempting to commit such offenses.

“Today, I am righting a historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted simply for being themselves,” Biden said in a statement. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades.”

The pardon does not affect anyone convicted of a non-consensual act, including rape.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the announcement, senior administration officials could not give an exact number as to how many veterans will be affected by the pardon but estimated that “thousands of individuals” who were convicted under UCMJ 125 may be eligible.

The pardons also won’t automatically change convicted veterans’ records. Instead, former service members can apply for a certificate of pardon, which they can then use in an online application to have their discharge characterization changed with the relevant military branch.

“That, for many of them, should unlock down the road access to critical benefits,” one official said.

Such a pardon is critical as a service member’s discharge status greatly impacts what Veterans Affairs benefits they can receive after leaving the military. If an individual was given a bad-conduct discharge from a general court-martial, for example, they typically wouldn’t receive VA education benefits, home loans, or military pensions.

Asked about the timing of the pardon and how much of it was political messaging ahead of the November elections, one official said it advances Biden’s interest in criminal justice reform and recognizes his support of the LGBTQ+ community and service members.

“I think that this action, in particular, is just aligned with his values and the priorities of the administration, and I would not read into the political nature of it. It is a way to write a historic wrong and we felt like the time was now.”

The Biden administration has steadily worked to shore up defense, social and economic priorities ahead of the election. This latest pardon comes just four months before he goes up against former President Trump, who infamously enacted a ban on most transgender people serving in the military. Biden, in the days after he was elected, quickly unraveled that ban.

Since then, the Pentagon has also begun a review of military records belonging to those discharged based on their sexual orientation. In September, the building launched a new outreach campaign to attempt to alert veterans who may believe they were erroneously discharged.

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” Biden said.

“We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members – including our brave LGBTQI+ service members: to properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they return home. Today, we are making progress in that pursuit.”

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