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U.S. President Joe Biden announced his use of clemency powers to pardon LGBTQ+ service members convicted under the military’s former policy against homosexuality.

This decision follows a recent magistrate judge ruling that a lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DoD) regarding the discharges of gay veterans can proceed.

On Wednesday morning, Biden released a statement on X confirming the pardons.

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“Today, I am righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted for simply being themselves,” Biden stated. “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.”

The pardon is specific to those convicted or court-martialed.

In 1993, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy allowed LGBTQ+ service members to serve if they kept their sexual orientation private. Superiors could not inquire about their sexuality, but service members could not disclose it either. Disclosing their orientation would result in discharge, typically under other-than-honorable conditions.

Additionally, sodomy remained a criminal offence in the U.S. military, leading to court-martials and convictions for homosexual acts. According to NBC News, Biden’s clemency covers these convictions and includes deceased service members.

This development comes after Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero allowed a lawsuit by five LGBTQ+ veterans against the DoD to proceed. The veterans aim to upgrade their discharges to honourable and remove all references to sexual orientation from their discharge documents.

Veterans with other-than-honorable discharges face several challenges, including being barred from re-enlisting and accessing Department of Veterans Affairs services.

In February, the DoD announced plans to upgrade the discharges of LGBTQ+ veterans to honourable, though no timeline was provided. Previously, veterans had to petition the government to update their discharge records, a process described in the lawsuit as “burdensome, opaque, expensive, and for many veterans virtually inaccessible.”

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 did not initially mandate automatic updates to discharge paperwork for affected veterans. It wasn’t until two years later that the Uniform Code of Military Justice was amended to decriminalise sodomy.

Biden’s statement did not specify the number of service members affected by the clemency order. The lawsuit indicated that over 35,000 military personnel were discharged under the ban on homosexuality between 1980 and 2011.

Biden’s clemency order coincides with the 9th anniversary of the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalised same-sex marriage in the United States.

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