Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GLBT folks as full respected citizens

The Matthew Shepherd Act continues to work it's way through Congress as an amendment to a Department of Defense Bill. The bill has now been stripped of the fighter plane funding that Obama has said he would veto. But the bill still faces opposition from Republicans and a challenge from the ACLU which seeks broader free speech protection than in the current Senate version of the bill.

Hate Crimes legislation seems to have two goals. The first is to make sure that all people are protected by current criminal laws, regardless of their sexual orientation. Great idea, but we don't need Hate Crimes legislation to do that. We simply need to enforce existing laws equally. What's required for that is a cultural change that you can't mandate by law: society viewing GLBT persons as full respected citizens.

The second goal is to punish crimes more severely when they are motivated by animus to an entire group of people. That sounds like thought crimes to me, and I don't buy the argument that all GLBT persons are victims whenever one of us is gay-bashed. In any case, increasing the punishment of a single criminal doesn't serve the underlying goal of increasing respect for GLBT persons. In fact the greater time in jail would likely have the opposite effect. Once again the underlying goal, impossible to mandate by law, is a cultural change viewing GLBT persons as full respected citizens.

If the goal is affirming the full and respected citizen status of GLBT persons, Hate Crimes legislation is not only ineffective but hypocritical while DADT and DOMA are still on the books. The most effective way to enact the required cultural change of viewing GLBT folks as full respected citizens would be to start treating us as such under Federal law. Allow us to marry. Allow us to serve in the armed forces. Allow the public to see their GLBT neighbors as full citizens, with the Federal government modeling that attitude not undercutting it.

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