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Democrats introduce law to ban gay and trans panic defense in courts

Democrats introduce law to ban gay and trans panic defense in courts

A rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court

Two Democrats today (13 July) introduced new legislation to ban the so-called ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ panic defense used in courts.

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Congressman Joseph (Joe) Kennedy III (MA-04) presented the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2018.

The proposed bill amends title 18 of the United States Code.

Markey and Kennedy’s legislation provides a thorough explanation for the ban. They primarily focus on the inherent discrimination in this type of defense.

Both legislators give seven findings to support the ban:

  • The American Bar Association has urged the US government before to curtail these defenses.
  • The defenses are ‘remnants of a time when widespread public antipathy was the norm for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (referred to in this Act as ‘LGBT’) individuals’.
  • They characterize sexuality and gender identity as ‘reasonable excuses for loss of self-control’.
  • They appeal to ‘irrational fears and hatred of LGBT individuals’.
  • Use of the defense undermines protection for victims of bias-motivated crimes.
  • They also reinforce prejudice at the ‘expense of norms of self-control’.
  • Finally, ‘to end the antiquated notion that LGBT lives are worth less than others and to reflect modern understanding of LGBT individuals as equal citizens under law’.

Beyond adding in language to ban the defenses, Markey and Kennedy’s Act also requires a report from the Attorney General.

Specifically, the AG must submit an annual report to Congress detailing prosecutions in federal court ‘involving capital and noncapital crimes committed against LGBT individuals that were motivated by the victim’s gender, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation’.

Read the full legislation here.

Banning what should have never existed

One of the most well-known cases of the gay panic defense was the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1988.

It has also been used more recently. An Ohio man used the defense to try and get off death row — but the Ohio Parole Board stayed his execution date of 18 July.

A Texas man, meanwhile, was found not guilty of manslaughter and murder after using the defense.

Only a few states have banned the practice, first California, and then Illinois. Rhode Island did the same more recently.

This new legislation, however, proposes to ban it nationwide.

‘Murdering or assaulting anyone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is not a defense, it is a hate crime,’ said Kennedy.

‘Legal loopholes written into our laws that seek to justify violent attacks against our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender neighbors should never have existed in the first place.’

Other co-sponsors include Tim Kaine (D-VA, Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election), Kamala Harris (D-Ca), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and more.

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