Anti-Gay Bias Has No Place in Our Juries

by Adam Romero & Ilan Meyer & Edited by Matthew Borges
April 2, 2019


The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear the case of Charles Rhines, who claims that the South Dakota jury that sentenced him to death harbored anti-gay bias. Such bias has no place in our criminal justice system because “our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.” The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this in Buck v. Davis, a case in which a jury may have imposed capital punishment based on a powerful racial stereotype “of black men as violence prone.”

Mr. Rhines was convicted of a heinous murder and was facing a sentence of either death or life in prison without parole. During jury deliberations, according to evidence submitted by Mr. Rhines’s attorneys, jurors expressed homophobic bias that impacted their decision. According to one juror, “[t]here was lots of discussion of [Mr. Rhines’] homosexuality . . . there was a lot of disgust . . . this is a farming community.” Another juror recalled that the jury “knew that [Mr. Rhines] was a homosexual and thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” One juror commented that, “if he’s gay, we’d be sending him to where he wants to go” if the jury sentenced Mr. Rhines to a life term. The notion that Mr. Rhines, as a gay man, would enjoy spending the rest of his life in a men’s prison—rendering a life sentence not punishment enough—reflects a pernicious stereotype that gay men are hypersexual. This faulty yet powerful belief has long been used to unfairly justify discrimination in a variety of settings such as employment and housing.

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