In 2013, according to the LGBT Bar, The American Bar Association unanimously approved a resolution calling for the end of the recognition of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses, wherein a jury is asked to decide whether a victim’s sexuality or gender bears the blame for violent offenses. Six years later, New York legislators have today affirmed a bill that bans the use of the argument in court rooms across the state.
New York is the seventh state in the country to enforce such a ban, according to The New York Times. California became the first state in the country to ban the use of the argument in 2014, according to The Advocate. The argument first received national attention when it was used as a defense during the Matthew Shepard case in 1998.
The bill was introduced last week by Senator Brad Hoylman and assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell. Hoylman had previously introduced a version of the bill in 2014.
“I don’t think we can leave it to judges and juries given the record of homophobia that we’ve seen in courtrooms,” Hoylman told the Times. “We’re acting prudently to codify values of tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people.”
Despite the bill making it through the legislature and its warm reception by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said he would sign the bill, those who oppose the it say the bill interferes with defendants’ constitutional right to defend themselves, according to the Times, citing an interference with due process and limitation of defenses.
Before New York affirmed the legislation, 79 percent of the LGBTQIA+ population in the US lived in states that did not prohibit the use of the defense, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Legislation has been introduced over the past two years to ban the use of the argument in federal courts by Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III. Given how long states are taking to catch up with The Bar, however, it may be some time before a federal court rules in favor of tossing the dangerous practice.
The gay panic defense was used in a ruling as recent as 2018 in Texas, when James Miller was sentenced to 10 years probation and convicted of “criminally neglegent homicide” after stabbing and killing his neighbor.