Senate Approves Gay Panic Defense Ban

May 5, 2017

The Illinois Senate passed a bill Friday that would prohibit a defense for murder based on a victim’s sexual orientation or a nonviolent sexual advance.

The gay panic defense bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Daniel Biss of Evanston, passed unanimously with a vote of 41-0 and will be up for consideration in the House.

Biss says that although rare, these types of crimes do happen.

“As we continue to take steps to ensure equal rights for those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community, the government must send an unmistakable signal that sexual orientation should never be grounds for committing an act of violence,” Biss said.  

Most recently it was successfully used in 2009, when an Illinois man was acquitted of first degree murder after killing his male neighbor who had allegedly made unwanted sexual advances. The defendant stabbed the victim 61 times.

Proponents of the bill want to ensure that this defense will not be used in Illinois again to mitigate or eliminate murder charges.

And although other legislators believe that the defense is unreasonable and should never be accepted in court, they also believe that legislation should not be the pathway to address the issue.

In a March Senate committee hearing for the bill, Senator Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said that if legislation is needed to ban the use of the gay panic defense, then legislation would eventually be needed for other defenses—such as for crimes against people of color.

“Are we going to put something in the law next, that if somebody uses the black panic defense because they [victim] were black— where would be the end of it?”

Raoul did not cast a vote on Friday.

Other states have followed suit in adopting similar measures. California became the first state in in 2014 to curtail the use of the gay panic defense, according to a press release from Biss’ office. This legislation was spurred by the 2011 court case of a male fourteen-year old that killed a gay classmate. The defendant pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received 21 years in prison.

According to the FBI, in 2015, 20 percent of the reported hate crimes were based on sexual orientation.

“There is a heightened level of violence against LGBTQ people,” says Mike Ziri, policy director of Equality Illinois, “and because of that there is a heightened level of concern and fear within the LGBTQ community.”