The Iowa House passed a bill 95-0 on Thursday that will prevent a person from using a gay or transpanic defense when they harm someone as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill says a person cannot use a defense based solely on discovering the victim’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identity when that person is subject to a “nonviolent” sexual advance and causes the death or injury of another person.
Originally the bill applied just to actions that cause death, but it was amended to include any violent crime.
“Defendants in Iowa and many other states have attempted to mitigate a murder by claiming they were enraged or shocked by a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton). “What an unspeakably asinine defense.”
Kaufmann said he filed the amendment along with Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids). He said many other states had defendants using the defense for other violent crimes. Kaufmann talked about a case in Iowa where a man used a crowbar to strike the manager of an adult movie theater in the head and strangled him, resulting in his death.
The defendant admitted to killing the manager, but claimed self-defense. He said he panicked after the manager allegedly sat down next to him during the movie and touched his leg. The jury rejected the gay panic defense, though, and convicted the defendant of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.
“It is clear to me that this protection and this forbiddance of such a ridiculous defense needs to be extended to all violent crimes,” Kaufmann said.
Bennett said the gay and transpanic defense is used by people who seek to evade personal responsibility for violent crimes by justifying their actions by finding out another person’s gender identity or sexual orientation or by receiving a pass or come on by an LGBTQ person.
Bennett cited a case from Texas. James Miller, a former police employee, was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the 2015 death of Daniel Spencer. Spencer had invited Miller to his home for drinks and to play music.
Miller said Spencer moved in for a kiss and grew angry when Miller rejected him. Miller stabbed Spencer twice and later turned himself in, claiming self-defense.
Bennett said that Spencer was gay, but Miller’s attorney, Charlie Baird, said the gay panic defense was not used because neither Miller nor Spencer is or was homosexual.
“With that verdict, a Texas jury was willing to absolve a killer of personal responsibility for his actions because his victim was gay,” Bennett said. “That sends the message that gay peoples’ lives aren’t as valuable as others and that gay people deserve to die. Here in Iowa, we value all members of our community.”
Bennett thank Representatives Kaufmann and Megan Jones (R-Sioux Rapids), who served on the subcommittee. She also thanked Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison), chair of the Judiciary committee.
“It’s ridiculous we have to do this, but we do,” Kaufmann said. “This isn’t just a hypothetical. People have been acquitted of murder. They’ve been given probation. They’ve been given lesser sentences all because they successfully used the defense that someone was gay. So, with the passage of this bill tonight, I hope the Iowa House can send a very loud message that you do not get to murder someone, you do not get to harm someone, you do not get to assault someone simply because you disagree with their lifestyle.”