News (USA)

Delaware bans LGBTQ+ panic defense with overwhelming bipartisan support

Sarah McBride Campaign Photo
Photo: Gerri Hernandez/McBride for Delaware

Delaware has officially banned the so-called “gay and trans panic” defense, becoming the 17th state in the nation to do so.

The panic defense is a legal defense strategy used to justify violent crimes against LGBTQ+ people due to a perpetrator “panicking” over discovering their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, no state allows the defense to be used on its own, but it is often used alongside other defense strategies as a way to advocate for leniency.

Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) signed the ban into law at the end of September. The legislation was sponsored by gay state Rep. Eric Morrison and trans state Sen. Sarah McBride. Morrison told Advocate that many of his colleagues had no idea a defense like that was ever allowed.

“Many of them were absolutely shocked that this existed. Once you educated them about that, they said this is outrageous.”

In the state House, most Republicans voted against the bill, while all Democrats voted in favor. But in the state Senate, the bill passed with bipartisan support. In fact, it passed unanimously (with two members absent), with every Democratic and Republican senator also signing up to co-sponsor it.

“Thank you to my colleagues and friends,” McBride stated on the Senate floor, according to the Washington Blade. “That is a beautiful statement… I’m incredibly proud that we will make clear that this is a bipartisan issue.”

The defense has been used in several prominent cases. It gained national attention in a 1995 case where a gay man, Scott Amedure, told his straight friend Jonathan Schmitz that he was attracted to him on the Jenny Jones Show.

Three days later, Schmitz shot Amedure and turned himself into police, and he argued in court that he was “embarrassed” on national TV. He avoided a first-degree murder conviction and was convicted of second-degree murder.

The use of the  “gay panic” became even more publicly discussed with the murder of Matthew Shepard, where his killers claimed that Shepard had “come onto” one of the duo. Similarly, the “transgender panic” defense gained prominence in the way of the 2004 murder of Gwen Araujo in Newark, California. 

The defense has reportedly been used in Delaware five times.

In 2013, the American Bar Association released a unanimous resolution asking all governments, from federal to state to tribal to local, to ban the defense.

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