Thursday, October 29, 2009

federal hate crimes legislation passes

The Federal government has now added sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of persons covered by hate crimes penalties. I have mixed feelings.

Hate crimes laws add additional penalties to crimes based on the motivation of the act. If I beat you up because I want to steal your wallet I get one sentence. If I beat you up because you're black or (now) gay, I get an additional sentence on top of the punishment for stealing. The motivation doesn't make the act more violent. The victim doesn't suffer any additional physical hurt. If the attacker is screaming "nigger" or "queer" during the act it may cause some additional mental suffering, but it is not, if fact, illegal, to yell "nigger" or "queer" (unless it's perceived as an actual threat to do violence). So the only act that hate crimes legislation actually punishes is not an act at all, but a thought: the mental state of the attacker, the contents of their mind.

The ability to think what I want to think is an essential freedom, even more important than the ability to say what I'm thinking (protected by the first amendment). So I cannot, and do not support the whole concept of hate crime laws.

However, hate crime laws have been around for decades, and there is zero chance, at least at present, that they will go away. So the practical question is: do I support adding sexual orientation, transgender and disability to the list?" Reluctantly I answer, "Yes." If there is a list of people who are subject to acts of violence merely because of belonging to a group, GLBT folks and disabled folks should be on the list. Hate crimes legislation is a means of recognizing that gay bashing occurs and that our government notices and objects. That's the only legitimate purpose I can see for hate crime laws.

But there are still two problems. Firstly, I don't like being added to a list of victims. If the Federal government really wanted to name GLBT oppression and move to end it I would rather they stop oppressing me - allow me to serve openly in the military, recognize my marriage - rather than permanently enshrining me as a person who needs special protection.

My final objection (another abstract objection that has zero chance of changing in the real world) has to do with the way we have learned to incrementally advance civil rights by creating lists. My legal protections and rights should not be contingent on whether my group has amassed the political power to get our name on a list. Governmental protections and rights should be based on general principles that apply to all people. Creating lists open up the perception that some group is getting "special rights" when all that's being done is affirming the same rights already existing be applied equally to all persons. It's always wrong to discriminate no matter what criteria you're using, except for the criteria directly relevant to the situation. We shouldn't have to wait for an ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) to tell us that there's no legitimate reason to fire an otherwise competent employee just because they're gay. And there's no need to have hate crimes legislation to recognize that violent crimes, regardless of the motivation, are unacceptable and will be punished.


Bill Baar said...

Defining "thought crimes" is not a good way to go....

Paul Oakley said...

You and I largely agree on this, it seems. But I'm not sure I'm willing to concede to the trend merely because it doesn't at all seem likely that another approach to the issue other than Hate Crimes Legislation will be successful in the near term. :)

My longish presentation of my point of view against Hate Crimes Law is posted on my blog here.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article as for me. It would be great to read a bit more about that matter. Thank you for posting that material.
Joan Stepsen
Escorts Cyprus

Anonymous said...

Nice article as for me. I'd like to read something more concerning this
matter. Thank you for posting this info.
escort in Kiev