The online petition is just about the least convincing showcase of political will yet devised. But it can still trigger meaningful action, like the British Prime Minister's apology to the late computer science pioneer Alan Turing, persecuted for being gay.
A British programmer last month launched a petition on the PM's website to win just such an apology. Though he was instrumental in breaking German codes during World War II, Turing was convicted of homosexuality, chemically castrated and thus driven to suicide.
Gordon Brown's statement includes the following:
While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction...
So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better.