(WB) The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday passed a bill that would ban the use of the so-called LGBT panic defense in the state.

Senate Bill 46, which state Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties) introduced, would ban a defendant’s use of the “discovery” of a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as “a defense to the crime of assault in any degree.” Wednesday’s vote brings SB 46 to the full Maryland Senate.

“This is not only a major step forward, but also allows this important policy to be just a few steps away from finally being signed into law,” Lam told the Washington Blade on Thursday.

State Del. Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery County) sponsored the version of Lam’s bill that passed the House of Delegates on March 10.

“Both bills passed through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee unanimously,” Lam told the Blade. “Which bodes extremely well for their eventual passage [in the Senate] as early as this week.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on the same day signed a bill sponsored by state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) that will ban the LGBT panic defense in Virginia. Maryland would become the 14th U.S. jurisdiction to enact this prohibition if Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signs SB 46 into law.

“The National LGBT Bar Association is proud to support this much-needed legislation,” Association President Wesley Bizzell told the Blade. “As is true of many other marginalized communities, bias and prejudice against LGBTQ+ people continue to be pervasive in our justice system.”

While opponents have argued SB 46 unfairly limits a defendant’s right to argue provocation as a defense, Maryland already bans the use of a “panic” defense when an enraged spouse discovers an unfaithful partner in the act of sexual intercourse and commits violence as a result. Lam’s measure would additionally ban the discovery of a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as a mitigating factor for violence, including murder.

Bizzell said banning this “blatantly discriminatory” defense would send a message that Marylanders will not allow criminal defendants to justify violence or escape punishment based on an LGBT victim’s identity.

“We know this heinous defense has been used in Maryland in the past,” he said. “And these assaults on justice and fairness must end. We hope the Maryland Senate will follow the House’s lead and unanimously approve this bill in the coming days.”

During the 2020 session, which ended early due to the pandemic, similar legislation passed the House but died in the Senate Judicial Committee where no further action was taken.

“Since the bill fell short last year due to our early adjournment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lam said. “It is only fitting that the House and Senate bills advanced to the Senate floor on the National Transgender Day of Visibility.”

Other LGBT rights bill remain before Md. lawmakers

Lee Blinder, founder and executive director of Trans Maryland, told the Blade they were hopeful about the progress of both Maryland’s panic and name change bills so far.

“We’ve had a lot of trans people in leadership like Iya Dammons of Baltimore Safe Haven and Jaime Grace Alexander at the ACLU moving these bills and ensuring they are moving forward,” Blinder said. “That is a huge component for why things are moving in the right direction.”

FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster, however, experienced a difficult voting session last week, particularly on a bill protecting queer youth in Maryland’s educational system.

He hopes those measures will receive the same attention.

“The same committee is still sitting on the Inclusive Schools Act [Senate Bill 98/House Bill 155], a landmark non-discrimination bill that would support over 1 million marginalized students across the state that experience harassment and discrimination due to race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender and disability,” LaMaster wrote in an email to the Blade. “We hope to see movement, so that we can truly support all members of our community.”