Anyone alive during the time of Matthew Shepard’s murder knows of the gay panic defense used by the lawyer of one of his murderers. Essentially, the gay panic defense alleges that defendants are driven temporarily insane by unwanted same-sex sexual advances. A more recent variant of this is the trans panic defense, which targets trans people.
Over the years, states have been banning gay and trans panic as a legal defense with the state of Washington being the latest to do so. The other states that have banned it are California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New York, and New Jersey.
As reported by The Seattle Times, the bill passed via a bipartisan 46-3 vote in the Senate. The bill is named after the murdered transgendered teen Nikki Kuhnhausen, whose remains were discovered December last year. She was missing since June.
Once the bill is signed by Governor Jay Inslee, it will prevent defendants from using the discovery of their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense for their actions. “Diminished capacity” claims will also be blocked, so defendants can no longer claim that they did not fully understand the nature and the gravity of the crime they committed.
California banned gay and trans panic defense in 2014, with Illinois following in 2017. Rhode Island banned it in 2018, while 2019 saw the states of New York, Hawaii, Nevada, Connecticut, and Maine do the same. New Jersey passed the ban just two months ago.
There was an attempt in 2018 to ban this defense on a federal level, specifically from Senator Edward Markey and Representative Joseph Kennedy III, who introduced bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives that would ban gay and trans panic defense at the national level. However, neither of the bills got out of committee.