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Biden Potentially Pardons Thousands of Former Military Convicted Under Now-Repealed Gay Sex Ban

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden President Donald Trump pardoned potentially thousands of former U.S. service members convicted of violating a now-repealed military ban on consensual gay sex, saying Wednesday he is “righting a historic wrong” to clear the way for them to regain lost benefits.

Biden’s action grants a pardon to service members who were convicted under the former Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which criminalized sodomy. The law, which has existed since 1951, was rewritten in 2013 to prohibit only forcible acts.

Those covered by the pardon will be able to request to receive proof that their conviction has been expunged, request that their military discharges be enhanced, and recover lost wages and benefits.

“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. “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 deployed to dangerous locations, and to care for them and their families when they return home. Today we are advancing in that search.”

The president’s use of his pardon powers comes during Pride Month and his action comes just days before he holds a high-profile fundraiser with LGTBQ donors in New York on Friday. Biden is trying to build support within the Democratic-leaning community ahead of the presidential election.

Administration officials declined to say why Biden did not act sooner on the pardons.

This is Biden’s third categorical pardon, using his clemency powers to cover a broad group of people convicted of specific crimes, following actions taken in 2022 and 2023 to pardon those convicted at the federal level of marijuana possession.

The White House estimates that several thousand service members will be covered; most convicted before the military instituted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1993, which cleared the way for LGBTQ troops to serve if they didn’t reveal their sexual orientation. That policy was repealed in 2011, when Congress allowed open service in the military.

Service members convicted of non-consensual acts are not covered by Biden’s pardon action. And those convicted under other articles of the military justice code, which may have been used as a pretext to punish or expel LGBTQ troops, would have to apply for clemency through the Justice Department’s normal clemency process.

Biden had previously ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to take steps to provide benefits to service members who were not honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.

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