President Joe Biden speaks June 18, 2024, during an event in the East Room of the White House.

President Joe Biden speaks June 18, 2024, during an event in the East Room of the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced he would pardon U.S. veterans convicted by the military during a 60-year period that banned gay sex.

“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,” Biden said in a statement.

Senior administration officials, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity before the announcement, did not provide a specific number for how many this decision could affect. The granting of pardons won’t automatically change convicted veterans’ records but allows those impacted to apply for a certificate of pardon that “should help them unlock access” to receive withheld benefits, an official said.

The pardon specifically grants clemency to service members who were convicted under the former Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that existed from 1951 until 2013. Article 125 criminalized sodomy, including between consenting adults. It also applies to those convicted of attempting to commit the crime.

The pardon applies to convictions for acts that were consensual and do not include aggravating factors, a senior administration official said. For additional charges that do not fall under Article 125, such as Article 133, or conduct unbecoming an officer, a person would have to go through a separate pre-existing process.

“We recognize that … this is limited based on [Article] 125 and that there are other convictions that may have gone on there under other provisions,” a second official said.

During the period Article 125 existed, the U.S. dealt with what was called the Lavender Scare. Beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, thousands of gay employees were fired or forced to resign from their jobs in the federal government because of their sexuality, according to the National Archives.

The Defense Department in 1994 implemented the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and was repealed in 2011. Under the policy, the military was barred from taking actions against service members who were LGBTQ+ as long as they did not publicly disclose or reveal their sexual orientation. Those who chose to disclose were discharged.

A federal court in San Francisco last week refused to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought by more than 35,000 LGBTQ+ veterans against the Defense Department, claiming they were wrongfully discharged because of their sexual orientation and often disqualified for veterans benefits.

About 30,000 veterans out of more than 35,000 discharged because of sexual orientation received ratings that were less than honorable, according to the lawsuit. The veterans are seeking discharge status upgrades and the removal of information about sexual orientation from military records and discharge paperwork.

“I think the bulk of the convictions luckily occurred before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Those convictions from those eras are indeed covered by this proclamation,” said a senior Biden administration official.

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Matthew Adams covers the Defense Department at the Pentagon. His past reporting experience includes covering politics for The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and The News and Observer. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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