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.
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