Gay Panic as a Legal Defence


Mitigating circumstances are often used to argue for a more lenient criminal sentence. But what about when the so-called circumstance is a man allegedly making advances at another man, and that then provokes him to violence. It's an argument that's been effectively used in an Australian case. What's more, Canada has a similar legal defence that some people want scrapped.

Gay Panic as a Legal Defence - Priest, Paul Kelly against Gay Panic defence

It's an issue that alarmed many people in Australia in 2008, when a man was murdered near a church in Queensland. The two men accused of the murder received a manslaughter conviction and avoided a life sentence. The men said they were provoked.

Apparently, the victim had made an unwanted homosexual advance and was murdered in an act of -quote- "gay panic".

Shortly thereafter, a priest, Father Paul Kelly, started an online petition to ban "gay panic" as a legal defence in murder trials.

The petition received more than 214,000 signatures. In the midst of mounting public pressure, Queensland's Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie was asked whether he would change the law. We aired a clip of Jarrod Bleijie talking with Australian public radio host Steve Austin.

The Minister's response is no surprise to our next guest. Paul Kelly is the priest who launched the petition to end the "gay panic" defence in Queensland, Australia. We reached him in Maryborough, Australia this morning.

Gay Panic as a Legal Defence - Law Professor, Carissima Mathen

Here in Canada, the gay panic defence also has consequences. Jamie Lee Hamilton is an advocate for transgender and sex worker rights in Vancouver. She saw the "gay panic" defence first hand in the 2005 murder trial of her friend Shelby Tom.

To find out more about how the so-called gay panic defence plays out in Canadian courts, we were joined by Carissima Mathen. She is a Professor of criminal law at the University of Ottawa. She was in our Ottawa studio.

Gay Panic as a Legal Defence - Law Professor, Cynthia Lee

Regardless of how often it is used ... or how often it works. The "gay panic" defence is a topic of legal contention here in North America.

Cynthia Lee is a professor of law at the George Washington University law school in D.C. She is also the author of Murder and the Reasonable Man: Passion and Fear in the Criminal Courtoom. In 2008, she wrote an article for the University of California Davis Law Review called The "Gay Panic" Defence (PDF). Cynthia Lee joined us from Washington, D.C.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ellen Saenger and Jessica DeMello.

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