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Michigan Senate passes bill to ban ‘gay panic’ defense

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Michigan Senate passes bill to ban ‘gay panic’ defense

Jun 21, 2024 | 5:04 am ET
By Jon King
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Michigan Senate passes bill to ban ‘gay panic’ defense
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Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

A bill that would bar the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses from being used in court was passed Thursday by the Michigan Senate.

House Bill 4718 would prohibit using a legal defense that would either partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity were to blame.

It passed 24-14, with four Republicans — Sens. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), Jonathan Lindsey (R-Sturgis), and Ed McBroom (Vulcan) — joining all Democrats voting in favor. 

Legislation to end ‘gay panic’ defense in Michigan gets House hearing

That was in contrast to when state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) put forward the bill last year and it passed the House on a 56-53 party line vote, with every Republican who was present voting against it. 

Testifying during committee hearings in March about the bill, Pohutsky said the defense is often used as a way to play on the prejudices of judges and juries in an effort to mitigate criminal penalties. 

“At its core, the defense asserts that crimes against the LGBTQ community carry less weight because we are inherently less human and therefore less valuable,” she said.

In 2013, the American Bar Association advised federal and local governments to bar legal defenses that, “seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction.” 

The legislation is supported by several organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the LGBTQ+ Section of the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan League for Public Policy, and the Equality Michigan Action Network, which said the Senate passage takes “one step closer to ensuring that a victim’s LGBTQ+ status cannot be used to undermine justice.”

The legislation now moves back to the state House for final approval before sending it to Gov. Whitmer for her expected signature.