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New York Lawmakers Ban 'Gay Panic’ Defense for Homicides

New York will be the fifth state to ban the infamous legal defense. 

On Wednesday, lawmakers in New York passed a ban on "gay panic" and "trans panic" defense in homicide cases, bringing the measure one step closer to the governor's desk, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already suggested that he will sign it.

The "gay panic" and "trans panic" defense is a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant's violent reaction, including murder.

"It is not a free standing defense to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic which is used to bolster other defenses," the National LGBT Bar Association explains on its website. "When the defense is employed, the perpetrator claims that their victim's sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains - but excuses - their loss of self-control and subsequent assault. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBTQ+ victims, these defenses imply that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others."

With Cuomo expected to sign the bill, New York will join four other states that have already banned the defense: California, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Nevada, The New York Times reports. Legislators in Hawaii and Connecticut have passed similar measures, but their governors have yet to sign the measures into law. Connecticut's governor has said he will sign his state's bill, but Hawaii's is continuing to review the legislation.

"This is an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere and it is made all the more meaningful as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which set in motion the modern day LGBTQ rights movement," Cuomo said in a statement.

One of the most recognized cases that attempted to employ the "gay panic" defense was the murder of Matthew Shepard. His killers adopted the defense, claiming they were reacting to Shepard's sexual advances. The judge rejected it, but despite widespread protest, it continues to be used today.

Glennda Testone, the executive director of the New York LGBT Community Center, praised the passage in a statement.

"The Center wholeheartedly applauds New York State lawmakers for passing a ban on the gay/trans 'panic' defense ... ensuring that LGBTQ New Yorkers who are victims of hate crimes will no longer be blamed for the violence committed against them," Testone said.

"This legislation makes it clear that homophobia and transphobia cannot be used in our courts to justify discriminatory violence."

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