Beyond all the hype about the Roman Catholic's not-so-new offer to disaffected Anglo-Catholics upset about having to share altars with women and gays, and the spectacle of teevee news people trying to pronounce the word "ordiniate," an important bit of history was made the other day.
The measure, attached to an essential military-spending bill, broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation. It gives victims the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are victims of violent crimes because of their race, color, religion or national origin.
“Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said afterward. “For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”
This bill was introduced more than ten years ago in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder. His mother campaigned tirelessly for it in the face of all kinds of abuse hurled at her and her late son. The bill was held up in committee and scuttled on several occasions because of the political clout of the homophobes during the Dubya years. Their clout apparently is no more. President Obama will sign the legislation.
The bill contains a provision to finance states and localities investigating and prosecuting these crimes. It also provides for the federal government to act when localities refuse to investigate or prosecute these crimes.
I agree with Senator Leahy. What makes hate crimes distinct is their intention to intimidate entire communities. Individual assaults and homicides may add to the intimidating influence of high crime, but no particular set of people is singled out. A hate crime targets not just one person, but an entire community. As Matthew Shepard's death demonstrated, gays and lesbians suffer from particularly violent attacks since their very existence threatens some men's tenuous sense of masculine superiority.
Pat Leahy is a warrior for the right causes who never gives up.
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