With the House passing H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (by a 249-175 vote), gay groups are cheering. I guess the White House is too; the President had urrged Congress to pass this bill.
While I don’t share the view of social conservatives that such legislation could target churches, I do share the concern of libertarians, particularly legal scholars, who don’t like this bill because it targets thought. It enhances penalties for violent crimes not on their degree of violence, but on the thoughts of the attacker.
If someone beats you up because he hates your sexuality, gender, religion or ethnicity, his punishment is greater than if he beats you up because he doesn’t like you personally, hates your hair color, social standing, appearance or outfit.
While gay groups cheer today a bill that will make little difference in anyone’s life (I have yet to see any research showing that such laws deter violent crime), they should be working harder (as at least one gay group is doing) to repeal a law which has an adverse impact every day gay men and women eager and willing to serve and protect our nation.
The Democratic Congress has delayed consideration of legislation repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT). The passage of Hate Crimes legislation and the delay of DADT repeal is just a sign of the Democrats’ attitudes toward gays. A lot of symbolism, very little substance.
Repeal of DADT could make a real difference in the lives of a good number of gay Americans while increasing the pool from which our armed forces can draw recruits. Hate Crimes laws do little more than make people feel good that Congress cares about them.
We should all be very suspicions of legislation whose primary goal is to make people feel good.
UPDATE: This legislation is more problematic than initially indicated:
HOUSE APPROVES FEDERAL HATE-CRIME EXPANSION BILL. Jacob Sullum comments: Aside from the usual problems with hate crime laws, which punish people for their ideas by making sentences more severe when the offender harbors politically disfavored antipathies, this bill federalizes another huge swath of crimes that ought to be handled under state law, creating myriad opportunities for double jeopardy by another name.