Although I have only glanced at the details of the current Hate Crimes bill that is being debated in the House of Representatives, I generally oppose such legislation. My thinking is that motive should be considered in the sentencing phase, but not in indictment phase. So, if someone assaults someone they should be indicted for assault. If it can be demonstrated that the motive for the assault was racist, homophobic, or misogynistic, then that can used as an aggravating factor in sentencing, but it shouldn’t be a separate charge.
I know that this position puts me in opposition to Democratic Party, but it’s what I think is the best way to deal with hate motivated crimes. But, when I listen to the debate it is absolutely disgusting to hear to the Republican arguments. They are arguing that this legislation is opposed by pastors all over the country because it prevents them from putting up billboards using scriptural passages to rail against homosexuality. They are arguing that the legislation criminalizes thought (namely, hateful thought). I doubt the legislation does any of that, but their argument is that homophobia is legitimate.
Homophobia is not legitimate.
I’m a straight, white, male, and if someone beats me up because they don’t like white men then that is a hate crime. If the prosecutor can demonstrate that the only reason I was beaten up is because I am a white man then I think it is legitimate to tack on some extra months of jail time for that reason. I don’t think it is legitimate to charge the person that beat me up with an additional charge beyond assault and battery. But, the Republicans argument seems to be different. They seem to be saying that is perfectly okay to beat someone up because you hate them.
There are arguments against Hate Crimes legislation. There is a constitutional argument. There are practical arguments. The Republicans aren’t making them. They are more concerned that the Democrats would bring up this legislation on the National Day of Prayer and accuse us of being hateful for doing so.
And, just to be clear, there are many elements of this bill that I definitely support, including funding for local police to prevent hate crimes. The only thing I oppose is the following:
Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person–
(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if–
(i) death results from the offense; or
(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.
What’s the problem? I might be wrong, but I think this will muck up the justice system with efforts to determine the motivation of violent crime. In some cases it might be very clear…a group of teenagers decided to go cruising looking for someone gay to beat up. We could deal with that as an aggravating factor in sentencing without charging them with a hate crime. But, in many cases, it will be purely incidental that the victim of a crime was gay, or of a certain race or nationality. I don’t think this is a productive thing to introduce into our justice system.
Nevertheless, the longer I listen to Republicans oppose the bill the less opposition I feel.
And then there is this:
United States Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, has reiterated his support for the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. In an April 16 letter to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), McCain says the law, passed in 1993, “unambiguously maintains that open homosexuality within the military services presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline.” Senator McCain goes on to incorrectly assert that the U.S. Supreme Court “has ruled that the military may constitutionally discharge a service member for overt homosexual behavior.”
McCain is free to say whatever he wants. But this is hate speech and it is beneath the dignity of anyone that would ask us to make them the President of the United States.