Gross indecency is a legal term in the English-speaking world that was originally used to criminalize sexual activity between men that falls short of the definition of sodomy, which required penetration. The term was first used in British law in a statute of the British Parliament in 1885 and was carried forward in other statutes throughout the British Empire. The offense was never actually defined in any of the statutes which used it, which left the scope of the offense to be defined by court decisions. The concept of gross indecency as a criminal offense is reflective of Victorian-era morality.
Gross indecency statutes consequently spread throughout the British Empire. Canada adopted the term in section 178 of the Criminal Code in 1892. The term was also used in the Criminal Code (sections 206 (1906, 1927), 149 (1953–1954), 157 (1970), 161 (1985)) as well as in the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1968–1969, section 7); however, all statutes that used the term were repealed in 1985 with an amendment to both the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act.
Alan Turing plead guilty to the crime in 1952, the consequences of which led to his suicide in 1954. Turing, who had been convicted of gross indecency for consensual, private homosexual acts, received a posthumous pardon in 2013. In 2017, under the Alan Turing law, all men convicted of gross indecency due to consensual, private sexual acts were pardoned.
In Australia, a gross indecency statute exists in South Australia, with gross indecency requiring the involvement of a minor (a person under 16 years old). A first-time offense is a three-year felony, and any subsequent offense is a five-year felony.
Gross indecency between male persons of any age, in public or private, is a felony punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. Gross indecency is a lesser offense than sodomy, which is punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. LGBT rights activists are trying to repeal the law.
- Gross indecency between male persons
- Gross indecency between female persons
- Gross indecency between male and female persons
Gross indecency between male persons was codified first, and the other two were made into laws later. Historically, the definition of gross indecency was unclear, and courts relied on nebulous notions such as the "common sense of society". The vagueness of the term allowed for adults who engaged in consensual sex with no monetary transactions in the privacy of their own homes to be charged with the crime, and men who had sex with men were particularly vulnerable to prosecution. Over time, the definition increasingly narrowed through Michigan Supreme Court decisions, and a 1994 decision officially narrowed it to sex acts that occurred in a public place or that involved a minor, the application of force, or a monetary transaction. Michigan now has separate statutes addressing all four aforementioned acts in statutes regarding indecent exposure, criminal sexual conduct (CSC), and prostitution; however, the gross indecency statutes remain in effect.
- "Acts of Gross Indecency". www.constancebackhouse.ca.
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- "Gross indecency; between male persons". Legislature.MI.gov. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- "Gross indecency; female persons". Legislature.MI.gov. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- "Gross indecency; between male and female persons". Legislature.MI.gov. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
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