A fool hath said in his heart, 'God is not;' They have done corruptly, They have done abominable actions, There is not a doer of good. - Psalm 14:1

16 June 2009

Passing the Matthew Shepard Act

Anyone who doesn't know the name Matthew Shepard should probably start here. We'll wait for you to get back.

Good? Good. Enter the Matthew Shepard Act, legislation which would extend federal hate crimes laws to cover crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill would also provide these requirements (more Wiki coming):
  • remove the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
  • give federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
  • provide $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help State and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
  • require the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (statistics for the other groups are already tracked).

Of course the Matthew Shepard Act has been introduced in one form or another for 9 years. And in one form or another (Republican opposition, President Bush's veto threat, or Democrats too cowardly to stand up to him) the bill has been defeated. President Obama has made passage an objective of his administration and with a Democratic congress the prospects look better than ever.

What's a good Christian Conservative Legislator to do? Repeal all hates crimes laws, of course.

WASHINGTON — Conservative Christian leaders are fighting a bill that would provide federal hate-crimes coverage to gays and lesbians, prompting questions of who, if anyone, should be protected by such laws.

With a Democrat-controlled Congress and a president who has indicated his support for the Matthew Shepard Act, time may be running out for its opponents. To stop the legislation, a few Christian leaders have suggested repealing all hate-crimes law, which would undo historic protections for race and even religion.

"The entire notion of hate-crimes legislation is extraneous and obsolete," said Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with the conservative nonprofit Liberty Counsel, adding that he believes hate-crimes laws are unconstitutional.

In addition, a number of Christian conservatives have raised fears that pastors would be prosecuted for inciting hate crimes if they had preached against homosexuality, despite assurances that the law only targets physical violence.

"All violent crime is hate crime," said Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at Family Research Council here in the capital. "What drives an individual to commit a violent crime but hate for their victim?"


Two issues here. First we'll address the one which has a modicum of legitimacy. Are hate crimes laws unconstitutional? I'm a very strong supporter of the Constitution of the United States. In fact I would give my life to defend it, and yours too, without remorse. When an honest inquiry concerning the constitutionality of a law or government action is raised, I pay fair attention regardless of how I feel on a personal level.

The basic argument here is based on the 14th amendment's equal protection mandate. If a man murders another man he should receive the same penalty as a white man who murders a black man. By qualifying the latter as a "hate crime" while both acts are equal (murder in this case) the government is undermining this principle of equal protection under the law.

In the end this is an analysis which misses (or avoids) the most important element in crime - motive. In an easier world we could just assume everyone committing a crime hates their target. Reality is much messier - most murderers don't hate their victims any more than anyone else. People end up in the wrong place at a bad time. Matthew Shepard was a fag, which meant he was always in the wrong place and at bad times. The goal of a hate crimes perpetrator is terrorism - plain and simple - and if anything we should re-classify these crimes as acts of terror, not repeal them.

The second issue here is much less complicated. The homophobic elements in our nation's government and their supporters (Focus on the Family for instance) know on some level that what they do is dangerously harmful to other human beings. Gays may be thriving in modern American culture, but that doesn't mean the jeopardy inherent in simply being who they are is gone from today's world. The depression and suicide statistics for this demographic are still higher than average and the real-world impact of living through perpetual prejudice are underestimated by everyone who doesn't live it.

I'll admit now I have a special bias on this issue. A friend of mine killed himself as a teenager. He was a strongly religious Catholic who eventually could not ignore the truth in himself. As a homosexual he sat in church every Sunday and realized his fate as an abomination doomed to the despairs of Hell. His suicide note was surprisingly rational. He decided the sin of killing himself wouldn't matter against the sin of being gay, and rather than face another 80 years of personal anguish and external torment, he chose to swallow the barrel of a hunting rifle instead.

Hate crimes don't just affect the victim, but every member of the targeted community. Intimidation and fear and shame and so many more emotions catalyzed by acts of terror all because of a person's skin color or sexuality. So do I believe the motivation behind a crime should be integral to the price paid upon conviction? You're damn right I do, and so does anyone else who is more worried about protecting the innocent before wondering whether they might not be able to tell others how much god hates fags anymore.

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