Illinois Just Outlawed The “Gay Panic” Defense—But It’s Still Legal In 48 States

The state joins California in barring fear of same-sex sexual advances as an admissible defense.

The Illinois House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill prohibiting the “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim their actions were triggered by a fear that a victim’s real or perceived orientation put them in jeopardy.

SB 1761, which also bars defendants from submitting a “trans panic” defense, was already unanimously passed by the Illinois state Senate and now heads to Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who is expected to sign it into law. California is the only other state which bans the gay and trans panic defenses, which have been condemned by the American Bar Association.

Judges desk in court room

When successful, historically the defense has resulted in defendants being found guilty of lesser charges, or been used as a mitigating factor in sentencing. In 2010, Vincent James McGee was charged with capital murder for stabbing and killing Richard Barrett in Mississippi, but was only convicted of manslaughter after he claimed Barrett dropped his pants and asked McGee to perform a sexual act on him.

Joseph Biedermann
Joseph Biedermann/Illinois Dep't of Correction

In 2009, an Illinois jury acquitted Joseph Biedermann of first-degree murder after he stabbed his neighbor, Terrance Michael Hauser, 61 times. Biedermann claimed Hauser had made an unwanted sexual advances and that he had merely been defending himself.

Activists call the new law an important advance in LGBT civil rights.

“At the heart of gay and trans panic defenses is the idea that individuals who do not conform to gender norms are abnormal and should be feared,” Anthony Michael Kreis, who helped draft the bill and testified to lawmakers, wrote in the Sun-Times. “They reinforce outdated notions that LGBT persons are mentally ill and predatory. They endorse the proposition that violence against LGBT people is excusable.”

Kreis told Slate that lawmakers have sent a clear message “that no person’s sexual identity is a valid reason to inflict harm.”

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