Thursday, April 30, 2009

Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill

I am so torn about this. On the one hand, yesterday's news that a Representative to the US House of Commmons, er, I mean, Representatives from North Carolina stood up on the floor of the House and said that it was a "hoax" that Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay makes realize how much work there is still to be done educating people about homophobia (not to mention on how to research and basic human decency--Matthew's mother was in the gallery when she made this outrageous and utterly false remark).

On the other hand, I'm not sure I think national hate crimes legislation is the answer. First, it criminalizes thought. It is already illegal in every state to tie people to fenceposts and beat them. The only thing this changes is it makes it illegal to do it because they are gay. An odious reason to kill someone, I agree, but punishing people for their beliefs has been proven historically to be a pretty ineffective way to abolish those beliefs (see, e.g., the Spanish Inquisition).

Second, giving the federal government a crack at the perpetrators accomplishes, what, exactly? Of course the kids who killed Matthew Shepard should be rotting in prison. Wyoming's laws are and were, I am certain, adequate to cover that. Now, whether Wyoming would treat the crime seriously because of the homophobia aspect, that's another question I suppose and the one reason that it might be important to have federal jurisdiction.

But my basic feeling remains: wouldn't the time, money and political capital be better spent on education, on repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, on adding sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination to federal equal employment protections?


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