The Governator signs bill limiting 'gay panic' defense
“This is a victory for fairness in our criminal justice system and a tribute to the courage of Gwen Araujo. Too many Californians live with the very real fear that they will be victimized simply because of who they are. Government should have as its first priority the protection of all its citizens. Making sure that our court system treats all Californians fairly, regardless of individual differences is essential.”
— Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-San Jose) on A.B. 1160, which Schwarzenegger signed last night
It’s a tactic that rarely wins, but the fact that it has been legally acceptable to attempt to mitigate violent criminal acts using a defendant’s homophobia until now in California is a travesty.
The use of this defense has now been limited, with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing of The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act.
Gwen Araujo was a transgender teen from Newark, CA. who was murdered in 2002. Defense lawyers used the “gay panic” defense — claiming that their rage and actions stemmed from having sex with Araujo and later learning she was born male.
Araujo was only 17 when she was killed.
The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act directs the Office of Emergency Services to create training materials for district attorneys on best practices to address the use of bias-motivated defense strategies in criminal trials. The bill also requires the Judicial Council to adopt a jury instruction that tells jurors not to consider bias against people because of sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics in rendering a verdict.
The law was praised by Araujo’s family.
“Since my daughter was killed, my family and I have spent literally thousands of hours working hard to make sure that California is a state where everyone is respected and treated fairly,” said Sylvia Guerrero. “The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act will really help us in our work.”
But it was a mixed bag for LGBT rights, as the Governator signed some bills and vetoed others:
* AB 2800, Civil Rights Housing Act of 2006 (signed). California housing laws are amended to include all of these categories in its anti-discrimination policy: race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, sex (and gender identity), marital status, sexual orientation, familial status and source of income.
* AB 606, The Safe Place to Learn Act (vetoed). This would have required the withholding of state funds from school districts that did not adopt an anti-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity.
* AB 1056, Tolerance Education Pilot Program (vetoed). The anti-bullying measure would have required funding this program to strengthen existing state law prohibiting LGBT harassment.
“We thank God that children in California public schools will be protected from this direct assault for one more year,” said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families (CCF), a conservative, pro-family organization.
“The Democrat politicians and teacher unions are relentlessly pushing to sexually indoctrinate kids. Schwarzenegger has delayed them for now.”
In his veto messages, Schwarzenegger said he vetoed AB 606 because it was “irresponsible” to create a new state mandate on schools, and he noted that existing laws already deal with discrimination and harassment in the schools.
The governor said he vetoed AB 1056 because it duplicated current efforts to provide “more avenues to teach about tolerance and human rights.”