Today, Democratic governor Phil Murphy signed a state law banning people from using the "gay panic" defense in court.
The bill, A1796, was overwhelmingly voted in by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature, passing 39-0 in the state Senate and 76-0 in the state Assembly.
The controversial defense strategy has been used for decades, most notably in Matthew Shepard's murder case in 1998. Panic defenses (like the "trans panic" strategy, which is also used in court across many states), in essence, are designed to convince a jury that a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for their own hate crime and/or murder.
The goal for such strategies is to minimize the assailant's offenses by claiming they committed the act "in the heat of passion," or that they lost self-control, upon discovering that the victim was LGBTQ.
According to NJ.com, a "heat of passion" manslaughter offense carries a five to 10-year prison sentence -- much shorter than a murder conviction, which can be up to 30 years to life. To date, less than 10 states have banned panic defenses in court.
"We will always stand with our LGBTQ+ community and promote full equality for all our residents," Murphy said in a statement. "Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations. With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community."
New Jersey Senater Joe Lagana, a co-sponsor of the bill, also said in a statement, "Gay and trans panic defenses, which reduce the punishment for horrible crimes, amount to legal malpractice and cannot be allowed to stand. Discrimination of any kind has no place in New Jersey, and we will to fight for all of our residents, especially during this period of increased discrimination, to ensure that our state is safe for everyone."