California First State to Ban 'Gay Panic' Defense
Fair warning to all gay-bashers who want to blame their crime on the 'scary lesbian' they just killed: California just became the first state to pass a ban on using the "gay panic" defense to reduce a murder charge.
Current California law permits a murder to be reduced to manslaughter if the crime happened in the heat of passion, the so-called "panic defense" that has allowed some killers of LGBTs to slide by with manslaughter. But the New Civil Rights Movement reports that a bill passed the Assembly this week that will bar defendants from using their victim's gender or sexual orientation to support a panic defense. An identical bill passed the state senate in May.
The bill, which passed on a 50-10 vote, was sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, who told reporters that such defenses legitimize violence against gays.
The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News reported on the legislation earlier this year, noting that the "gay panic" defense has already been used in the murders of LGBT teens Gwen Araujo and Larry King in California, as well as a case in Fort Worth where a murder suspect confessed to killing a Texas Christian University student. LGBT activists say enough is enough.
"It is an outrage to allow the use of panic defenses and in doing so blame the victims of horrific acts of violence," said John O'Connor, executive director of Equality California. "Homophobia and transphobia have no place in California's justice system.
"This is 2014! We as a society are moving rapidly away from the hate, bias and prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," Bonilla said. "It is shocking to know that criminal defendants are encouraged by their counsel to employ this so-called 'gay panic' or 'trans panic' defense in order to receive a possible lesser sentence for murdering an individual just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
The Advocate reports that the bill was one of seven sponsored by EQCA. Other legislation seeks to let parents to choose to self-designate as "father," "mother," or "parent" on birth certificates; or replace references to "husband" and "wife" with gender-neutral language such as "spouse" in all state laws.
Additional legislation requires schools to document responses to bullying and refer students to appropriate services; assure that nonprofit youth organizations receive special tax exemptions only if they comply with state nondiscrimination laws; educate health care providers about LGBT health issues; and mandate that death certificates for transgender Californians reflect their identity accurately.