The Colorado House Monday approved a bill that will restrict use of the gay panic defense, used to lessen the penalties when someone claims they committed an act of violence because the victim is gay, transgender or queer.
House Bill 1307 doesn't actually ban the use of the defense, which has been used to justify murders and assaults, such as in the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.
Co-sponsor Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta told the House Judiciary Committee recently that “you can always describe the victim’s behavior” and how the defendant interpreted it, and how it played on the defendant's mental state. What the defendant can’t do is ask to be relieved of legal liability based on the victim’s sexual or gender identity, Soper said.
House Bill 1307 won passage Monday on a 45-19 vote, with four Republicans: Reps. Colin Larson of Littleton, Hugh McKean of Loveland, Richard Holtorf of Akron and Assistant Minority Leader Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch voting along with the House Democrats ito approve the bill. Soper was excused on Monday and likely would have been a fifth Republican vote in favor.
One Colorado's Daniel Ramos said in a statement Monday that "from the beginning, this bill has been a bipartisan effort, and we have seen that collaboration across the aisle continue today. This is about people’s safety here in Colorado, not any political or religious ideology. We need to ban the gay and trans panic defense to hold violent offenders accountable for their attacks on members of the LGBTQ community."
However, the bill still allows the defense if a defendant can prove its relevance.
HB 1307 sets forth a procedure for how someone would be able to offer proof that the victim, defendant or a witness's actual or perceived gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation is relevant as part of the defense.
Ten states have banned the use of the gay or transgender panic defense.
The bill now moves onto the state Senate, where it is sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village) and Jack Tate (R-Centennial).
Tate told Colorado Politics that the Colorado courts have allowed the gay panic defense in the past, tied to a ruling in the 1990s. "It strikes me that the [ruling] in that case created an unjust provision in law," he said.
Bridges pointed out that District Attorneys Council backs the bill. "This is insanity in our law and well past time to fix," Bridges said.