Australia has made a move to scrap the so-called “gay panic” defence from the only state in Australia where it can be used, but LGBT+ rights campaigners said further reforms are needed to combat hate crime.
Defendants accused of murder in South Australia have been able to argue that they acted out of panic over a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity - potentially leading to charges to be downgraded to manslaughter in some cases.
LGBT+ rights groups have long called the provocation defence discriminatory and out of date, and a bill to revoke it was introduced by the state's attorney-general Vickie Chapman in the local parliament last week.
Chapman, who did not make immediate comments, has said previously that the defence “is outdated, gender-biased, difficult to understand and, in certain cases, downright offensive”.
More than 25,000 people signed an online petition launched last week calling for the defence to be scrapped.
It is with mentioning that the argument has been rarely invoked. It has been used four times in the last decade, most recently in 2015, according to the South Australian Rainbow Advocacy Alliance, a campaign group.
“It's a fantastic step that it's finally introduced. I'm hoping it will pass quickly, it's long overdue,” said Matthew Morris, the head of the group that jointly organised the petition.
“For a lot of community members it's the defence's existence in general that is a concern,” he told the ‘Thomson Reuters Foundation’ by phone from the state capital, Adelaide.
But Morris said the proposed reform was not enough to protect LGBT+ people, and urged courts to consider prejudice due to sexual orientation as a factor when sentencing in criminal cases.
Advocacy group Equality Australia said there was “no place” for the panic defence, and that revoking it would help end discrimination against LGBT+ Australians.
“Attacking someone because who they are offends you should increase your punishment, not reduce it,” the group's chief executive, Anna Brown, said in a statement.
Neighbouring New Zealand banned the legal argument in 2009, and more U.S. states are taking steps to prohibit the defence after Washington state became the 10th to do so this year.
Read related myGwork articles here: