Biden issues blanket pardon for thousands of military veterans previously convicted for LGBT identity and orientation

 June 27, 2024

It is not uncommon for a president, especially in an election year, to use their executive authority to grant clemency to certain individuals from particular constituency groups to bolster support from voters who are part of or allied with said group.

President Joe Biden did exactly that on Wednesday when he issued a blanket pardon for an indeterminate number of military veterans who were previously court-martialed and convicted over their sexual orientation, the Washington Examiner reported.

The move comes as Biden continues to trail former President Donald Trump in most of the 2024 general election polls, in part due to weakening support among various constituency groups that typically vote for Democrats.

Biden's statement

"Today, I am righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted simply for being themselves," President Biden said in a statement. "Our Nation’s service members stand on the frontlines of freedom, and risk their lives in order to defend our country."

"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," he continued. "As Commander in Chief, I am committed to maintaining the finest fighting force in the world. That means making sure that every member of our military is safe and respected -- so they can focus on their mission."

"This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation," the president added. "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 sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home. Today we are making progress in that pursuit."

Biden's pardon proclamation

Coinciding with that statement on Wednesday was a proclamation granting a "full, complete, and unconditional pardon" to the "thousands of LGBTQI+ service members" who were "forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

The pardon specifically applies to "persons convicted of unaggravated offenses based on consensual, private conduct with persons age 18 and older" under former Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)," as well as related convictions for "attempts, conspiracies, and solicitations to commit such acts" under other UCMJ articles and U.S. Code statutes.

The pardon will not apply to those whose convictions involved "any aggravating factor," including but not limited to prohibited activities with recruits or trainees, acts that involved coercion or force, conduct that constitutes "fraternization," or conduct that involved another service member's spouse, among other disqualifying things.

Biden's proclamation further revealed that the Military Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard, would work with the Justice Department to publicize and streamline the application process for a pardon certificate and possible upgrade of military discharge status.

"Although the pardon under this proclamation applies only to the convictions described above, there are other LGBTQI+ individuals who served our Nation and were convicted of other crimes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," the proclamation added without providing any specifics. "It is the policy of my Administration to expeditiously consider and to make final pardon determinations with respect to such individuals."

DoD FAQs on Biden's pardon

As alluded to in Biden's proclamation, the Defense Department published a FAQ page about the announced pardon and specified that it applied to many service members who were convicted of violations of Article 125 of the UCMJ between May 31, 1951, and December 26, 2013.

Those dates mark when the now-defunct Article 125, which criminalized sodomy, including consensual acts of such, first took effect and was eventually repealed.

The FAQ page provided answers to nearly two dozen common questions about eligibility for and effects of the pardon as well as the application process, and provided points of contact for the various service branches to get that process started for qualifying veterans.

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