Tuesday was a bi-partisan victory for LGBTQ rights, as both blue New Jersey and deep red Utah announced new laws to protect their LGBTQ residents.
In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) issued an administrative rule that outlawed conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth this past November, which went into effect today. The rule succeeded after some negotiations with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Utah is the 19th state to ban this practice, which studies show lead to a rise in suicide and suicidal thoughts. Considering it is a staunchly conservative state, the ban is quite a victory and is providing some hope that laws like this are possible in other conservative states as well.
Fox13 explains that the initial conversion therapy ban was introduced last year by state Rep. Craig Hall (R). Conservative changes to the bill, however, made it impossible for even Hall to continue supporting it. Gov. Herbert issued the administrative rule in response to protests from LGBTQ youth.
In a statement, Hall said he is thrilled by the adoption of the administrative rule. “This measure will truly save lives,” he said.
Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor who helped draft the original bill’s language, told Salt Lake Magazine, “Although Utah is a predominately conservative state, protecting children from conversion therapy is not a partisan project. It’s about preventing youth suicide — a goal that is widely shared by progressives and conservatives. Utah adopted this measure to prevent children from dying by suicide.”
Meanwhile in New Jersey, the “Gay and Trans Panic” defense was officially banned, meaning the argument that a homicide defendant “panicked” after discovering their victim’s sexual or gender identity is no longer allowed as a legal defense.
The law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy (D), received unanimous support in both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly.
“Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations,” Murphy said in a statement. “With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community.”
So far only eight other states have banned this defense: New York, Connecticut, California, Hawaii, Maine, Illinois, Nevada, and Rhode Island.
On a national level, the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act was introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2018 and reintroduced in 2019. Even if passed, though, it would only outlaw the defense in federal court. It remains up to the states to pass their own legislation.
The panic defense, as explained by the LGBT Bar Association, takes advantage of jurors’ implicit biases and fears. According to the organization, dozens of murderers have been acquitted across the country using it. Defendants also use it as a way to gain more lenient sentencing.
D’Arcy Kemnitz, the LGBT Bar Association’s executive director, told the Associated Press that defenses like this are simply not how the law works. “If every time a woman was propositioned and shot someone — we just don’t allow that to happen in our society. A gay man who’s making a pass — does that person deserve to be harmed? Does that person deserve to be killed?”