All parts of Australia have abolished the LGBT+ ‘panic’ defense to murder – after the South Australia Parliament passed its legal ban this week.
Gay and trans panic defenses are legal strategies which lawyers use to defend murderers and attackers.
The defendant may claim that a gay or trans person made an unwanted sexual advance on them. They then justify any attack as them acting in self-defense or claim they were so shocked by the advance they were temporarily insane.
Lawyers then argue their clients’ attack was understandable and that they should get a lesser sentence.
The defence was most recently used in South Australia five years ago.
Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said:
‘Together we’ve ensured that the defence is abolished. Now we will be working to make sure that our laws address crimes motivated by hate or prejudice.
‘Laws that legitimise and excuse violent and lethal behaviour against any member of the LGBTIQ+ community have no place anywhere in Australia.
‘The Sentencing Act should be amended so that, when courts are considering a punishment, they must look at the full extent of the harm done to victims when crimes are motivated by hate or prejudice.’
Celebration after years of campaigning
Meanwhile Matthew Morris, chair of the South Australian Rainbow Advocacy Alliance also welcomed the state’s parliamentary vote:
‘We’re glad to finally see this outdated law abolished. This announcement comes after years of advocacy from community members and supportive politicians of all parties.
‘The news was swiftly met with celebration from many LGBTIQ+ South Australians and we thank everyone who helped this bill finally come to pass.’
As the culmination of that campaign, over 38,000 people signed Equality Australia and the South Australian Rainbow Advocacy Alliance’s petition in the last eight weeks.
As well as the petition calling on South Australia to abolish the defense, it also asked the state to follow the leads of Victoria, New South Wales and the Northern Territory in ensuring courts consider the real impact of hate crimes on victims.
Panic defenses around the world
LGBT+ ‘panic defenses’ have been used as far afield as the Philippines, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, where lawyers call them the ‘Portsmouth defense’ or ‘Guardsman’s defense’.
In the US, the states of California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Colorado have banned the defense in the last decade.
In Australia, Victoria was the first state to ban the defense in 2005, with other states and territories following.
South Australia was incidentally the first state in the country to make gay sex legal in 1975. However, it is the last state to ban the ‘gay panic defense’ which Australians also call the ‘homosexual advance defence’.