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"Panic defense" bill sent to California Gov. Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, California -- The so-called "panic defense" bill, AB 2501, passed the California Assembly on Wednesday by a bipartisan vote of 58-14.

The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law.

AB 2501 would prohibit the use of the “panic defense” to support a finding of sudden quarrel or heat of passion, which is necessary to reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter. The groundbreaking bill is the first of its kind in the nation.

The legislation marks the 100th piece of legislation sponsored by Equality California that has been passed by lawmakers and continues California's steady march toward granting full equality to all residents of the Golden State.

For more than a decade, EQCA has partnered with legislators to successfully sponsor more legislation improving the lives of LGBT people than any other statewide LGBT organization, strategically moving California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT people to a state with some of the most comprehensive human rights protections in the nation.

“This milestone is not significant for quantity alone but for the real, life-changing impact of these laws," said Rick Zbur, executive director-elect of EQCA. "Because of the work of Equality California in the legislature, California students will learn about the role and contributions of LGBT people in history; people around the world know about the story and example of Harvey Milk; and LGBT youth won’t be subjected to the psychological abuse that is conversion therapy.”

“LGBT seniors who have lost a partner will be secure in their homes and not vulnerable to unfair tax increases; California employers must provide health insurance for same-sex spouses and domestic partners; and transgender people need not fear that they won’t be able to secure a job or a place to live simply because of their gender identity," he added.

For its milestone 100th piece of legislation, EQCA partnered with Assemblymember Susan Bonilla to end the “panic defense,” a disturbing legal tactic that has been used in various cases in California and nationwide, whereby criminal defendants claim that they have been the object of romantic advances by a person of the same sex or a transgender person that they found so offensive and frightening as to induce a violent reaction against the victim.

"This defense legitimizes prejudice and hate, and it should play absolutely no part in California's justice system," said Zbur. "This bill helps eliminate anti-LGBT bias as a 'reasonable' basis to ease the punishment for violent crimes against LGBT people."

“There is absolutely no justification for the use of ‘panic defenses.’ Clearly this tactic has been utilized by defendants, unjustly targeting members of the LGBT community, based on damaging stereotypes,” said Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla. “With AB 2501, we are moving forward to ensure equality in our courts and making it very clear that discrimination against the LGBT community is intolerable and unacceptable.”

There is a complete lack of scientific research to support the “panic defense,” and the American Bar Association last year adopted a resolution urging “federal, tribal, state, local and territorial governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses.”

“This panic defense bill and the other 99 pieces of legislation before it have brought us a long way in improving the lives of LGBT people in California,” said Zbur. “As we look ahead, Equality California is evolving to meet the needs of California’s LGBT community. We will utilize Equality California’s enormous mobilization and communications capacity to educate the public and to fight discrimination wherever it exists. And we will use our public policy and legislative expertise to advocate for programs at all levels of government that address the needs of the LGBT community and combat historic and existing discrimination. This is the work ahead of us.”