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'Gay Panic' Must No Longer Be a Defense in Murder Cases, Lawyers Declare

In today’s era of increasing recognition of gay rights, it seems hard to believe that rage after learning a person was homosexual can be considered a legitimate defense for murder. Finally, the American Bar Association is moving to make the so-called “gay panic” defense a thing of the past.

In 2006, California passed a law requiring that juries be instructed not to consider the sexual orientation or gender identification of either the victim or defendant in a capital murder case. The law stemmed from the 2002 slaying of 17-year-old Gwen Araujo, a transgendered woman who was beaten and strangled to death by two men who became outraged when, after having sex with her, they learned she had formerly been male.

After one trial ended in a hung jury, the two were convicted of second-degree murder in a new trial.

A 2004 case in Fresno involving a man who murdered his date after learning she had previously been a man, and dozens of similar cases around the nation, led to calls that the “gay panic” defense be put to rest once and for all.

The ABA passed a resolution this week urging all state and local governments, as well as the federal government, to adopt laws banning the defense tactic.

D’Arcy Kemnitz (pictured), executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association told the ABA House of Delegates that the defense is a “surprisingly long-lived artifact” from an era when hatred toward gays, lesbians and transgendered people was thought of as socially acceptable.

Kemnitz commended the ABA vote, saying it makes clear that “legal professionals find no validity in these sham defenses mounted by those who seek to perpetuate discrimination and stereotypes as an excuse for violence.”

SOURCES: San Francisco Chronicle, American Bar Association Journal


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