Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

U. S. House Passes Bill Against Anti-Gay Hate Crimes

On 12 October 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Wayne Shepherd, a student at the University of Wyoming, died of head injuries.  These head injuries were sustained on 06 October when he was attacked, tortured, and murdered.  Although a later 20/20 report questioned this, at trial witnesses claimed that Shepherd was targetted because he was gay.  Ever since that time gay rights advocates have tried to get strong legislation passed that would combat anti-glbt violence as hate crimes, along with violence based on racism, sexism, bigotry against certain religions.  Some (not all) conservatives oppose the very idea of “hate crimes.”  Former Pres. George W. Bush used to say that all murders were “hate crimes” and therefore no special categories were needed.

I disagree.  By targetting crimes motivated by various forms of bigotry, law enforcement is pushed to treating them more seriously–and the law becomes a moral teacher that register’s society’s strong disapproval of both the hate-crime itself and of the bigotry that leads to such violence.

Yesterday, we made a stride in that direction for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered folk.  The House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Bill and sent it to the Senate.  President Obama supports the bill and urges its speedy passage so that he can sign it into law.  It is important to not that the bill would not criminalize anti-gay feelings or restrict free speech:  It targets violence motivated by bigotry, but only undirectly targets the bigotry itself.  It doesn’t criminalize bigotry, but by targetting the violence spawned by that bigotry registers strong disapproval–and calls hate for what it is.

April 30, 2009 - Posted by | GLBT issues, human rights., U.S. politics, violence


  1. I think “hate crimes” laws are necessary. They do, indeed, seed a message that society will not tolerate violence against individuals because they are different from what some see as the norm or the “right” lifestyle or the preferred race. I disagree with the “shrub” that all murders are hate crimes. Most murders do not occur because of hatred toward an individual.

    Comment by Ralph | April 30, 2009

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  3. I am for hate crime laws to be on the books as no one should be persecuted or harmed for their beliefs. As for murder once it occurs whether or not it was a hate crime (for the victim at least) is a moot point. That being said I am really tired of sexual orientation issues being in the news so much.Be gay but do not shove it in my face. I have a dear friend who is gay and he never mentions it. I accept him as he is.

    Comment by Paul | April 30, 2009

  4. Paul, I’m not gay. But I am excited that the “gay news” has been mostly positive recently. It hurt too many of my friends when they were targetted year after year as a political wedge issue. I find it good news that the direction is going the other way. If you’re tired of these stories, don’t read them.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 30, 2009

  5. I read a lot Michael and read what I please. Some gays whom I have met came on like militants and I didn’t appreciate it and let them know it. I prefer the friendly persuasion rather than an attempt at coercion or intimidation.

    Comment by Paul | April 30, 2009

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