A New Hampshire representative referred to LGBTQ people as having a “deviant sexuality” on Monday, derailing debate on a bill sought out by LGBTQ rights groups.
Speaking on a bill that would prohibit an alleged perpetrator from using a victim’s sexuality and gender identity as a defense to manslaughter, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, used the phrase while voicing opposition to the measure.
“We’re all the same breed. We’re all the same people. If you kill somebody you should be charged for murder, and you should be tried on it, and 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 began, before being silenced by the chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
The chairman, Rep. Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, immediately rebuked Marston, banging his gavel loudly to drown him out.
“Rep. Marston, no member is able to speak of someone’s ‘deviant sexuality’ like that,” Abbas said.
“What is LGBT?” Marston responded.
Seconds later, Abbas ordered that the committee be adjourned.
Marston’s remarks came during debate in the Criminal Justice committee on a highly-charged piece of legislation.
House Bill 238 would bar people from using someone’s perceived gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation as a criminal defense in a manslaughter case.
The bill would eliminate what rights groups have called the “gay panic” defense. It would direct how a court could determine whether a defendant “was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance caused by extreme provocation.”
The proposed bill would dictate that provocation could not include “discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression, sex, or sexual orientation.”
The bill would also exclude “unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advances towards the defendant” as grounds for a defense in manslaughter.
It’s unclear if such a defense has been used in a New Hampshire murder case.
The legislation is part of a national push by rights groups to pass protections in states across the country. Among Democrats on the committee, the bill had been broadly supported, who argued the current laws implicitly permit such a defense in court.
“We have a duty to the state of New Hampshire to protect all people, including those that are different among us,” said Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight, a Manchester Democrat. “And clearly there is something wrong in our law that basically allows someone to commit murder when they feel that they’ve had a pass made at them. And that is just unacceptable.”
National research has found that most defendants who use the defense are still found guilty.
The debate on New Hampshire’s bill quickly turned tense.
Speaking in favor of the bill, another Democrat, Rep. David Meuse of Portsmouth, compared the defense the legislation would eliminate to defenses used during Jim Crow laws in the South after lynchings of Black Americans.
“This situation is very analogous to a lynching defense that would center around a person being triggered by seeing Black people,” Meuse said. “I think passing this bill is part of the process that we need to make to essentially get to a point where all of our people have equal protection under the law.”
Klein-Knight said the legislation was a simple matter of lawmakers making the right choice or the wrong one.
“If you’re gonna vote to kill this, you’re sending a clear message to the people of New Hampshire that you don’t support protecting LGBTQ+ members,” she said, drawing her own admonishment from the chair for characterizing lawmakers’ motivations.
Some Republican members had contended the bill was unnecessary because the courts are already equipped to dismiss a defense of that kind on its own.
“I think the jury’s smart now to take a case like this and proceed with it correctly, ” said Rep. Dave Testerman of Franklin.
Marsten, meanwhile, argued the state Constitution already protects every citizen, calling the bill a “carve-out” for LGBTQ residents.
“We refer to people as gay or ‘LBGs’ or so on and so forth, and we want to carve them out and say they got special privileges,” he said. “Our Constitution of New Hampshire as I understand it covers everybody to begin with. And we only a number of years ago amended our Constitution about discrimination towards somebody. We don't want to do that. But I’m just saying, we don't want to have special privileges for special people.”
Immediately after that comment, he continued with the reference to “sexual deviants.”
Marsten’s comments prompted Abbas to abruptly adjourn the hearing, moments before the bill was due to receive a committee vote over whether to recommend it be killed or passed.
It was unclear when the bill would be taken up again for a vote.
Marsten’s remarks set off angry responses from top Democrats and LGBTQ rights advocates, including Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, who is gay, and the New Hampshire Stonewall Democrats, a gay rights group.
“The words that Rep. Marston used are extremely oppressive to the LGBTQ+ community and are below the dignity of the position he holds,” said Rep. Joshua Query, the vice chairman of the Stonewall Democrats and the Manchester representative who sponsored the bill. “Rep. Marston's comments demonstrate the urgent need for New Hampshire to pass bills like HB 238.”