Last week marked the 17th annual Queer Pride Week at UCSB. There were rainbow-painted signs scattered around campus, a drag show, lighthearted simulated gay weddings, and meanwhile, the United States House of Representatives rather appropriately passed legislation expanding hate crime laws to cover those victimized for their actual or perceived sexual orientations.
According to FBI figures from 2005, there were 1,171 hate crimes committed against people based on sexual orientation, with the agency reporting that such crimes consistently amount to an estimated 17 percent of all hate crimes – hardly an insignificant statistic. Fortunately, the House passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, erupting in applause as the openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, proudly proclaimed, “The bill is passed.”
To the surprise of nobody anywhere in the world, the fire and brimstone-reactionaries had their (presumably Christ-themed) undies in a twist. Perhaps the most vocal and insidiously loathsome of the bill’s opponents was evangelist Dr. James Dobson, the host of the “Focus on the Family” radio program. Dobson – who is only a doctor in the stupidest sense of the word imaginable – warned his listeners that the legislation was meant “to muzzle people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality,” subsequently stating that if you read the Bible in a particular way, “you may be guilty of committing a ‘thought crime.'” Orwellian rhetoric aside, the bill would only “muzzle” those folks who choose to express their moral and biblical concerns by kicking the shit out of some dude because he prefers men. I mean seriously, what is the country coming to when one cannot practice their religion by committing heinous, unprovoked acts of violence? So much for the freedom of worship, eh?
The Bush administration, in typical Bush administration fashion, embraced the most unconscionably out-of-touch position possible. In what constitutes utter obsequiousness to the evangelical overlords who ushered him into office, the White House issued a statement indicating that, should the Senate pass the legislation, the president would veto the bill. Classy.
According to the statement, the administration’s opposition to the act ostensibly arises from a federalist disagreement. The White House believes that the increased scope of the federal government in dealing with hate crimes is “unnecessary,” with a section of the bill raising “constitutional concerns.” The announcement additionally proclaims that the president “favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, or national origin.” The statement, in the shock of the century, makes no mention of protecting sexual orientation.
Dubious constitutional claims aside, the hate crime bill has met fierce opposition from two sects of the American citizenry. The first is a group of good old-fashioned homophobes who not only hate the gays, but also believe that if you can’t fuck up a bunch of homos with well-placed kicks to the jaw, you might catch a case of the queers. These guys generally oppose all hate crime laws on account that they are racists too, with a smaller portion of them believing that, although hate crime legislation is good, it just shouldn’t cover those immoral homosexuals. (Ninety percent of these guys are secretly gay, according to my made-up statistics.)
The second group is a much more mainstream and less reprehensible group of people who compassionately ask – and you’ve heard it before – “Isn’t every crime a hate crime? Shouldn’t every citizen be equally protected under the law?” Well yes, I suppose, but inasmuch as that applies to actual hate crime laws, the argument entertains blatantly flawed logic. See, in our legal system, motives matter. That’s why there’s a difference between first-degree and third-degree murder. That’s why there’s a distinction between a crime of passion and a premeditated killing. We, as a country, have recognized that an act of violence rooted in bigotry and prejudice can perpetuate fear amongst the populace and can consequently claw at the very seams of our society. Thus, acts of hatred should be punished most severely. It’s about time we recognize the importance of such measures and it is about time that sexual orientation is awarded such protections.