Hate Crimes Legislation vs. Marriage Equality

Appalled is the only way to describe my reaction yesterday when I saw the C-Span clip of Virgina Foxx, the Republican Congresswoman of North Carolina’s Fifth District during the debate of the hate crime legislation. This former college president and English professor said that the fact that Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay was a hoax. (She has since tried to backtrack on her words.) The fact is gay people in this country are attacked and killed because of their sexual orientation here in the U.S. In some cases, gay people are targeted because they seem to some to be “easy pickings” and the real motivation for the attack is pure harassment or robbery or even rape.

There was a rash of attacks on gay people here in Houston in the 90s, one of which was the murder of Paul Broussard, which happened near where I lived. If you’ve never read about this case, I recommend that you read this article or for a slightly different perspective look here.

It only takes reading the gay press online to know that these attacks are still happening today. I can’t say what percentage of gay people have experienced physical attacks or the threat of being attacked, but I would guess that it’s a high percentage, from attacks in schools to attacks in the street to attacks at home.

In spite of all these attacks (I’ve experienced it myself as I’ve mentioned on my about page), I don’t really support hate crimes legislation. If someone is attacked, they are attacked and the perpetrator should be punished. If someone is murdered, the killer should be tried and punished according to the law, not because of who was killed but because murder is murder no matter who the victim is.

I agree with some in Congress who ask how do we determine which groups should be covered under hate crimes. Ours is a democracy and everyone should be treated equally, no slippery slopes.

And that is the rationale of those people who are against hate crimes legislation: they do not want to have to give special treatment to certain groups.

But where is that rationale when it comes to Marriage Equality? Those who are against marriage equality certainly favor the idea of a special status for heterosexual people. And those against same-sex marriage are not just limited to the evangelicals and other Republicans.

How would all of those who voted in favor of the hate crimes bill have voted if the bill were for legalizing same-sex marriage? I doubt that the majority would have voted for it. While many of these representatives may feel they are doing the right thing, this type of legislation is not the answer to stopping the attacks and murders of gay people, nor of any other group of people. It’s no different than putting that metal plate over the construction hole in the street. You can drive over the hole, but it’s still there and eventually needs to be fixed.

The only real “fix” here is to change the attitudes of individuals and of society as a whole. It’s very hard to change ideas when they have been pounded into someone’s head from an early age.

But the government can do that by making laws that bring equal rights to all citizens. (We’ve seen this when slavery was abolished, when women were given the right to vote, when mixed race couples were allowed to marry.) I don’t know if people who have not been denied rights can understand this. I’m pretty sure that most women can understand this; I’m pretty sure that people of many ethnic minorities can understand this; I know that almost every gay person knows this. Even with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of our elected officials are still heterosexual white men, and most of them do not understand what it means to be discriminated against and do not want to understand it. Because if they were to make the playing ground equal for everyone, they might lose some of their power.

Putting specific groups into hate crimes laws does not make people of those groups any stronger. It weakens them by saying they need special protection, and in reality, is a way of keeping them second class citizens.

Instead what the government needs to do is enact and enforce laws, such as for marriage, labor, and immigration, that give all citizens their due rights under the Constitution.

We can only hope that people like Virginia Foxx, who are against giving special status to any citizens through hate crimes legislation, would also realize that by expressing that viewpoint, they are advocating equal status for all citizens and, thus, would support bills that provide that equality: legislation in favor of same-sex marriage and the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

4 Responses

  1. I wish I had done my ’rounds’ and visited your blog earlier in the day! At my ‘home’ blog we’ve been discussing this issue and none of us did it justice, none of us got to the solution, at least not as well and as calmly as you did. It sure has been nice meeting you, and I look forward to getting to know you better.

  2. I didn’t ask permission and probably should have — I’m new to all this and don’t have the etiquette down — but, many at Prairie P&Ps would be interested in your perspective so I linked to your post.

  3. Actually that’s quite all right, and now . . . since just a couple of minutes ago, in fact, I have a little different perspective on it myself. I just finished watching a segment of the “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC (one of my favorite on all of TV) with Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in Wyoming a number of years ago and whom the hate crimes bill, and I suppose law if it it is enacted, is named for.

    As she explained it, what the federal hate crimes law will do is provide federal support in investigating and trying cases where local or state officials do not act or won’t act because of their own personal biases or their isn’t necessary funding to deal with the case.

    This does not mean , again as I understand it, that the defendant will be charged with a hate crime; however, from what I have seen in some cases is that if there is a state hate crimes law that also applies in a case, the defendant can be additionally charged for the hate crime along with whatever other act (attempted murder, murder, etc.) he has been charged with. What has happened, though, in a number of cases that I have read about is that prosecution chooses not to add the hate crime charge because it is more difficult to prove, and that the prosecution would rather win what they can win rather than taking the chance of losing the whole ballgame. The problem is that because of this, although the crime might have been very severe, the criminal gets off with doing few years in prison.

    After listening to Judy Shepard, I like what the federal law would do, and if state laws also do something similar–say for example, that the sheriff or county attorney is biased and won’t investigate or prosecute to get a conviction, then the state attorney general steps in–that would work. (We do know that in some states, the state officials can be just as biased as the local ones.)

    What I still don’t agree with is charging someone with both the actual crime and an additional hate crime. To me, this is where there is inequality. Everyone should be tried and punished according to the crime that was committed. And they should have to serve the time the jury or judge sentenced them with.

  4. Thanks, I am from the same blog as fnord. I appreciate the idea of equality that you state here.

    My concerns about the whole issue is that many conservatives are against hate-crime legislation because they fear that such is geared toward giving what they consider “special rights” to GLBT people. The premise goes, “if I preach against homosexuality in my church service I am potentially guilty of a hate crime.” In other words, the message is “please don’t put my prejudice in jepordy – I want to retain it.” I suspect that no hate crime legislation will change people’s hate.

    My position is that people who act on their hate, which is more likely organized via groups of haters, should be treated differently and punished more severely. We have RICO laws for a reason; stopping organized crime is in all of our interests.

    Thanks for your blog and all you do.

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