Governor Rauner Approves Ban on Use of LGBTQ Panic Defense

Gov. Rauner signed the panic defense ban on Friday afternoon, with the birth certificate modernization bill. Illinois is now the second state in the country to have such a law.

Criminal defendants who kill LGBTQ people can no longer be acquitted by claiming a panic defense–that they were provoked by a fear of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity–under a new law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner that was part of the 2017 legislative agenda of Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ Illinoisans.

“This new law ensures​ LGBTQ people are not blamed for the violence perpetrated against them simply because of who they are,” Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said Monday. “We thank Gov. Rauner for supporting the panic defense ban. With the unanimous support of the legislature and the governor’s action, Illinois continues its proud bipartisan tradition of advancing justice for LGBTQ Illinoisans.”

The measure, SB 1761, which the governor signed on Friday after unanimously passing both chambers of the General Assembly, is part of the 2017 legislative agenda of Equality Illinois. The agenda also included two other bipartisan bills signed into law in recent days. The LGBTQ Public Service Law (SB 1670), which enhances LGBTQ representation and visibility on state boards and commissions, was approved by Gov. Rauner on Aug. 18. The third bill, HB 1785, modernizes state law so transgender individuals won’t have to undergo unnecessary surgical procedures at great expense in order to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates. It was signed last Friday.

“This is a huge achievement. With the approval of these three bills by the legislature and the governor, Illinois is moving forward on LGBTQ rights while the federal government reverses course and Donald Trump is going against the tide of history,” Johnson said. “These bills improve the lives of LGBTQ Illinoisans, and having them signed into law also improves the social and political fabric for everyone in the state. It could have only happened through the collaboration of Illinois Democrats and Republicans. Working together, we can achieve great things.”

An initiative of Equality Illinois, Senate Bill 1761 was sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston and state Rep. Litesa Wallace of Rockford. The legislation unanimously passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly in May. SB 1761 is, we believe, the first bill in the country supporting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights to pass with unanimous support from a state legislature.

“We applaud Sen. Biss and Rep. Wallace for championing this legislation. ​After we first discussed this issue with them in 2015, they immediately picked up the baton and ran with the bill, working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build bipartisan support.​ The lives of LGBTQ Illinoisans will be better because of this law,” Johnson said.

The panic defense was first used in Illinois in 1972. Gay or trans panic defenses allow a defendant to receive a lesser sentence, and, in some cases, even avoid being convicted and punished by blaming the defendant’s actions on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Under SB 1761, the discovery, knowledge, or disclosure of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity would not qualify as a mitigating factor or serious provocation in order for a defendant to receive a reduced murder charge.

“While these cases are rare, they are shocking and rooted in irrational and deep-seated fears and prejudice against LGBTQ people. That’s why this bill should also be placed in the context of violence against LGBTQ people,” Johnson said. “LGBTQ people have historically faced and continue to suffer disproportionately high rates of violence. In 2015, one-fifth of the hate crimes reported to the FBI were because of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. For a long time, society condoned such violence. With SB 1761, we are determined to ensure that animus does not carry over into the courtroom.”

Illinois becomes the second state in the country to pass a law against the panic defense. In 2013, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution calling on state governments to legislatively curtail the availability and effectiveness of the defenses. California approved such a ban in 2014.

SB 1761 is supported by the American Bar Association, Anti-Defamation League, Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, National LGBT Bar Association, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Birth Certificate. Legislative sponsors, Equality Illinois, and ACLU of Illinois celebrated the signing of House Bill 1785, modernizing the Illinois Vital Records Act and allowing transgender and intersex individuals to change the gender marker on their birth certificates without undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Illinois now joins 14 additional states, the District of Columbia and the federal government in ensuring this important access.

This is an A Wider Bridge Midwest article