Stephen Close, a 50-year-old gay man who was jailed for gross indecency in 1983 for having sex with a fellow soldier in the British army, was shocked when police landed on his doorstep in Salford, England recently, demanding a DNA sample. Close told Raphael Satter of the Associated Press, "I was horrified that after all these years they suddenly decided to bring this up again. I've moved on from my life. I'm a businessman now. I've been a relationship for more than 10 years now. It's like someone's put a bomb under me."
According to Satter, "Britain's DNA database — one of the largest in the world, with some 6 million samples — has long been a magnet for controversy. Human rights advocate Peter Tatchell says gay men convicted years ago under Britain's now-defunct gross indecency law may have had their rights violated recently by British police who ordered them to submit their genetic material to the database."
Tatchell has long argued that lumping a consenting, victimless crimes like "gross indecency" with child sex abuse and rape is just plain wrong. While a new 2011 law allows police to gather DNA from former offenders who committed crimes before 1995, the year Britain's database was created, the Association of Chief Police Officers' Amanda Cooper told Satter that police were instructed that "certain sexual offences, such as gross indecency and buggery, should not have a DNA sample taken on the grounds of a sole conviction."
Like America's sodomy laws, the "gross indecency" law in Britain dates back to the 1800s and it was used against several high profile gay and bisexual men, including Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing. Elements of the law remained in place until a decade ago, which, says Satter, included "anti-gay restrictions relating to the age of consent, the military, and sex under various circumstances."
The police who took Close's sample have apologized and agreed to review the more than 800 DNA samples collected since for people with old convictions.
"In the case of Mr. Close, our request was made without proper consideration of all the facts and once again for that I apologize," Manchester Deputy Chief Constable Ian Hopkins told the AP on Wednesday.
According to a press statement from Britain's Home Office, the head of the country's police forces, also agreed that the laws should be revised, saying that, "It is unacceptable that homosexual men have been living for decades with criminal records for consensual sex."