Bill banning “gay panic defense” tabled

Monitor staff
Published: 3/3/2021 5:51:27 PM

Two days after a House representative was admonished by the chairman of the Criminal Justice committee for referring to LGBTQ people as having a “deviant sexuality,” the committee has voted to retain the bill he was opposing, delaying action on it until 2022.

The committee voted to retain House Bill 238, which would bar what LGBTQ advocates call the “gay panic defense,” 11-8. The bill would prohibit a defendant in a manslaughter case from using the alleged victim’s sexuality or gender identity as a defense for why they were provoked into action, as well as any actual or perceived romantic advances made by victim.

HB 238 had received a hearing Monday and was slated to be voted on by the committee Monday afternoon. But during debate ahead of that vote, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language. Abbas adjourned the committee shortly after, delaying a vote on the bill until Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Democrats in favor of the bill said that the committee should pass it and not retain it another year, arguing that by not changing the law, the defense would remain a potential option. It is unclear if the defense has been used in New Hampshire before, though supporters of the bill have pointed to cases in other states.

But Republicans said that the bill was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense, and that it needed more work before it could be passed.

Marston was not present for the committee session Wednesday. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Sherman Packard, Jennifer Tramp, said that Marston “was unable to attend his committee today,” but did not clarify whether Marston had been removed from the committee by Packard.

The action means the bill will stay in the committee and not progress to the House floor until the next session begins in 2022.

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