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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Scotland, the last country in Europe to remove the death penalty for homosexuality

Glasgow Gay Pride
THERE has been a lot of celebration in the media of late to mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act on July 27, 1967. However that act only had effect in England and Wales. The original 1967 act wasn’t extended to Scotland due to the opposition of Scottish MPs, both Labour and Conservative. Scotland, they claimed, needed to be protected from the evils of homosexuality. Gay men in Scotland had to wait another 13 years for the Criminal Justice Scotland Act of 1980 to extend the same provisions to Scotland.

Sodomy, legally defined as anal intercourse, had been illegal in England and Scotland since at least the 16th century, and for much of that time it was a capital offence. The law was harsh, sentences were exercises in sadistic cruelty. One of the earliest attested Scottish cases was in 1570 when John Swan and John Litster were convicted by the High Court of the Justiciary in Edinburgh of “the wilde, filthie, execrabill, detestabill, and unnatural sin of sodomy, otherwise named bougarie, abusand of their bodies with utheris, in contrare the lawes of God, and all other human lawes”.

They were sentenced to be strangled at the stake, their bodies burned, and their ashes scattered, depriving them of a Christian burial in a society which believed that only a burial in consecrated ground allowed the dead to rest in peace for eternity. It was a law which not only sentenced gay men to death, but sentenced them to eternal torment.

Laws against homosexuality were often conflated with laws against witchcraft. On April 2, 1630, a certain Michael Erskine was convicted for “diverse points of witchcraft and filthy sodomy” and was burnt at the stake. In Scotland sodomy remained a capital offence until 1889, making ours the last country in Europe to retain the death penalty for homosexuality.

In 1967 in England and Wales, homosexuality was decriminalised under certain very specific circumstances. Whereas the heterosexual age of consent was 16, for gay men the age of consent was set at 21. Whereas the underage partner in heterosexual sex was not commiting an offence, an underage gay man was. If a 21-year-old man had sex with his 19-year-old boyfriend, both faced criminal action. The lawmakers hypocritically set the age of consent at 21 in order to, they claimed, protect young men. Then they protected young gay men by criminalising them.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the law in Scotland was brought into line with the law in England and Wales. Ironically it took Margaret Thatcher’s first government to impose it on the social dinosaurs of the Scottish Labour Party.

In 2015 and 2016 the Rainbow Europe index voted Scotland the best country in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality and human rights.

There might not be any significant anniversary for LGBTQ rights in Scotland this year, but we still have reason to celebrate. From being one of the last countries to remove the death penalty for gay sex, one of the last to decriminalise homosexuality, and from being one of the most repressive countries in Europe for LGBTQ people, Scotland has transformed itself into the country with the most progressive rights in the world.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: The National, Wee Ginger Dug, August 2, 2017

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