Connecticut governor signs bill banning ‘gay panic defense’

June 22, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s governor signed legislation Friday banning use of the so-called “gay or trans panic” defense in criminal cases.

The defense is a controversial legal strategy that seeks to use a victim’s sexual orientation or identity as justification for a violent crime. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said that implies the life of a gay or transgender person is valued less than others and Connecticut won’t allow homophobia and transphobia to justify violent crime.

Neighboring Rhode Island banned the defense last year.

Massachusetts congressmen are trying to ban it in federal court. Democratic Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy re-introduced a bill this month to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the gay and trans panic defenses, a step many in the legal community have been urging for years.

Lamont made note of the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard, the college student who was beaten to death by two men in Wyoming. Defense attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to use the gay panic defense. A judge would not allow it and those men were convicted.

“Claiming that meeting or interacting with someone who is gay or transgender elicited some type of temporary insanity that is supposed to justify a violent crime is ludicrous, and quite frankly it is absurd that this tactic has ever been successfully utilized in the court system,” Lamont said in a statement.

Lamont signed the measure, along with several other bills. He has now signed 52 bills from the 2019 legislative session.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based National LGBT Bar Association, which is leading an effort to pass such legislation across the country, California, Illinois and Nevada have also banned gay panic defenses. Legislation is pending in other states.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to sign a bill that recently passed the state Legislature to ban the defense. Its passage was one of his top priorities before the session adjourned this week.

Kennedy said when he re-introduced the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act that as long as these defenses are allowed in state and federal courts, the LGBTQ community will be deprived of the justice all Americans deserve. He said that with more states taking action, “we have the federal momentum to outlaw this bigoted legal practice across the country.” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal is one of the co-sponsors.