Breaking news: Hate crimes legislation passes House!

You can follow the debates via twitter, or see them live at C-SPAN here.
The hate crimes legislation is the Matthew Shepherd Act, description here.
There are some really hateful things being said by the legislators, including the suggestion that Matthew Shepherd’s death was not actually a hate crime motivated by his being gay. Absurd.
UPDATE: The bill passed the House (news via Twitter). Vote count: 249-175. News story via AP here.

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  1. tpaperny
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    It passed! 249/175

  2. Ariel
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes! I’m so glad! Today is such a good day!

  3. Angela
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    This legislation is long overdue! That being said: the circumstances surrounding Matthew Shepherd’s death are more complicated than the mass media (or the mass movement) suggests. As a former Laramie resident, I can vouch that many of the details got lost in a fervor to utilize his death for positive social action. That Matthew Shepherd knew his attackers through an illegal drug connection is just one of the details that gets ignored. His sexuality is part of the story, but it is not all of the story. In the fear of being misinterpreted, I find it reprehensible that legislators would vote against this act. Much good has come out of Matthew Shepard’s death. However, as a former Laramie resident, I cannot ignore the complicated details that too often get swept under the rug.

  4. face
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    As a tangential note on this celebration, I would urge people to show up to (where the description link leads) and poke around voting and commenting. I know from experience that there’s been quite a bit of official interest in the site and as such it causes either disinterest towards it or reinforcement in false beliefs because of the overwhelmingly conservative (particularly libertarian) bent to the members. I think everyone would be surprised by the the positive impact that showing a more accurate representation of viewpoints would create.
    Just saying…

  5. saintcatherine
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I meant to comment on this before, but I wasn’t able to sign in when it came up.
    I am opposed to hate crimes legislation because it makes thoughts a crime.
    I am in all ways opposed to discrimination & violence against anyone for sexual orientation, gender id, race, disability, …. I just find the idea of writing “illegal thinking” into the law abhorrent.
    Murder is murder, and if the judge or jury wants to sentence you to the maximum penalty because they feel you are a sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist bastard, then fine by me. But how can you make legislation that punishes you for your (stupid and evil, maybe) opinions?

  6. Lilly
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I was watching the debate on this bill, and I actually wish the house had not passed it. Here is why:
    The bill is badly written – sexual orientation is not defined at all, and gender identity is defined as actual or perceived gender-related characteristics. Both of these are so incredibly broad that they could be twisted to mean anything.
    For example, since the law is so broad and sexual orientation is not defined, this situation is possible: A man comes up to a woman alone and flashes her. She is startled and hits him with her purse in self defense and runs off. He’s committed some misdemeanor, but she could be charged with a federal hate crime (assault motivated by sexual orientation, in this case exhibitionism)
    I also strenuously object to the notion of making some citizens “more protected” than others, as well as the concept of a court trying to determine someone’s state of mind, or making a state of mind a crime.
    Also, this law would take a lot of justice out of local communities. Someone could graffiti a garage door (the bill includes property attacks) which would be a local misdemeanor, about a 100 dollar fine, could now become a federal hate crime with 10 years in prison. That escalation is absurd.
    Also, there are freedom of speech issues. Similar legislation passed in England and it lead to the prosecution of several religious leaders as inciting hate crimes. That is making speech illegal – clearly unconstitutional.
    And lastly, the bill will be ineffective on the hate crimes we really want stopped. Matthew Shepard’s killers both received two consecutive life sentences. This bill doesn’t offer that. Other murders of GLBT folk have been punished with life in prison or death. This bill would not effect their cases at all.
    All citizens have a right to be protected by the government. Some people think that GLBT folk should be more protected, but this bill is not the way to do that. This bill is horribly written and could become a monstrosity if it becomes law.

  7. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Murder has always been treated differently depending on the thoughts behind it. People are convicted of higher sentences for pre-meditated murder, and people are convicted of lower sentences when they were ‘provoked’ or if it was ‘a crime of passion.’ Aren’t the only differences there the “thoughts” and “intentions” behind it?
    And the purpose behind hate crime legislation isn’t to target the thoughts behind the crime, it is to target the RESULTS of hate crime. The result of hate crimes is that entire groups of people are made to feel targeted and unsafe in our society. The thinking is that a hate crime doesn’t just affect the victim and those close to the victim, it affects an entire group.

  8. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    “assault motivated by sexual orientation, in this case exhibitionism”
    I think ‘sexual orientation’ has a pretty clear definition in today’s society and no judge is going to be dumb enough (or obtuse enough) to interpret exhibitionism as ‘sexual orientation.’ I’ve read a lot of court cases lately that involve the term ‘sexual orientation’ and there is NEVER any confusion about what that means.

  9. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    And many of these cases went as far back as the 70s and 80s, so I’m sure ‘sexual orientation’ has a very settled meaning within the law.

  10. Jaime Lenard
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    This comment has been deleted. Please see our comments policy here:

  11. Jaime Lenard
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    That is well spoken and very true.

  12. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Haha, that was the most hilarious rant I’ve read all day. You have severe problems my friend.

  13. Jaime Lenard
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    This comment has been deleted. That was a bad joke and one we have heard before:) Be more original next time.

  14. TheBrawn
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    It’s either too early, or I’ve been staring at computers too long today, but I don’t know what to do with Jaime Lenard. Someone get that person a lollipop or something sweet. Too early in the morning for anger and ignorance like that.
    At any rate, thank goodness for the bill, but someone needs to sit the AP down and discuss language issues… i.e., calling the group in question “gays” (as in the Zach Galifianakis quote, “a gay. That’s right: A GAY”). I’m also a bit queasy at the first sentence and the usage of “victim”: “Gay victims of violence…” Strange modifier placing.
    Here’s to addressing and combating hate crimes, and toward a “dream of a common language.”

  15. Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    This comment has been deleted because it violates our comment policy.

  16. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Not just this, but someone who commits a hate crime is probably a bigger danger to re-offend than someone else.
    If I love “stomping queers” (not that I do, though not that I have tried it), chances are when you let me out of jail I will do it again. I still represent a danger to the public at large.
    In contrast, a friend of a friend (of a friend?) of mine killed his wife when he came home one day, and she told him she was leaving him for her boyfriend of the last six years, and was taking their three normal kids, leaving him the retarded kid, had moved all their money offshore where he would not be able to get at it, and there was not anything he could do about it. While he should not have killed here, he got a light sentence because he is no real danger to re-offend.
    Apart from the “perceived danger” factor, the “actual danger” factor is enormously important in these kinds of cases.

  17. cc539
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree that GLBT citizens are more protected than others as a result of the bill. The need for this bill is a reflection of the fact that societal norms offer greater protection to non GLBT citizens. The current legislation merely affords the same protection beyond the narrow scope of societal norms.

  18. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Horseshit. No one gets arrested for thinking. They get arrested for hurting other people.

  19. thepatriarchy
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Oh, you’re not allowed to include Lost spoilers? Oops… It was my first crack, but I thought it was a kind of funny post. But it obviously violated the first rule of humor: actually to be funny.

  20. Ariel
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    On a side note, I sorta like the snide remarks left after a post has been deleted.

  21. nilbog
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Perhaps “normal” and “retarded” are not the best words to use in your description . . . just a thought.

  22. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I seriously hope the Senate waits until Franken gets seated so this passes.

  23. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I am not sure what alternative one might prefer me to use. While I could walk to euphemism treadmill, I am not sure I could better capture her sentiment as I retell it with another choice of terms.
    As far as I can dig up quickly, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders still uses “Mental Retardation” as the term, though various euphemisms are promoted by different groups and in different contexts. I am also not sure if there is any substitute that is not more general (and since I am addressing a specific case, I might as well be specific.)

  24. brightred
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Since no one else seems to have mentioned this yet, I guess I’ll throw in $.02
    There are, of course, a lot of LGBT activists who are adamantly opposed to hate crime legislation on the grounds that prisons (ie, mandatory increased sentencing for bias-driven crimes) make for a pretty crappy solution to social justice issues. There are a lot of folks who have articulated this stance way more eloquently than I ever could but some of the main objections include: 1) sending queer bashers to prison (an egregiously trans- and homophobic environment) is only likely to exacerbate anti-queer sentiments in the long term, and 2) many progressive activists see LGBT issues as intrinsically tied up in antiracist and economic justice movements, which have long critiqued the criminal justice system for being structurally racist and classist. The idea is that granting more authority to the criminal justice system to incarcerate is, in the big picture, only likely to greatly aggravate systemic inequality (including heterosexism/homophobia) and that queer activist resources would be better directed at pursuing alternative strategies for addressing anti-queer and anti-trans violence (including those violences that are perpetrated by the state).
    Anyway, like I said other folks have said it better before me, including AFSC’s LGBT Rights project, and you can look at some of their criminal justice-related materials here:
    Also SRLP released a statement not too long ago explaining their opposition to NY’s GENDA due to its inclusion of mandatory sentencing language…

  25. CS
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I listened to the oral arguments for this yesterday and I actually agree with part of what the other side was saying.
    The main objections seemed to be with presenting a person’s thoughts as evidence against them in trial and the bill offering special protections to certain groups and not others.
    The first part I don’t agree with though I can see their argument. Something like spray painting a swastika on a rabbi’s house is pretty obviously a hate crime and it isn’t hard to determine the motivation. But in other cases, I’m not so sure that the intent and motives can be determined as easily. If someone commits some crime somewhere and the prosecutor wants to go for hate crime, evidence would have to be gathered which shows what the person’s views are. That fact that you attend a certain church, read certain books or belong to certain groups is admissible in court and could make your charge much more serious. This is different I think than pre-meditated murder, etc. But, I think in actual practice, it won’t come down to that and judges and prosecutors will use it correctly. The motive in the crime would have to be established independent of all the other facts about the person in order for it to not punish ideas.
    The other part of their objections I do agree with. I don’t understand why there has to be a ridged list of groups defined for hate crimes. Is this suggesting that only these groups are capable of being victims of hate crime? If someone starts a group which goes around burning crosses in the yards of women who have had abortions or burning flags in the yards of veterans, these seem like hate crimes to me.
    It’s really interesting to watch the actual debates on these things. You get to see both sides present their arguments and see things from both perspectives. It’s not that the bill shouldn’t be passed at all but after hearing honest objections I can see where they are coming from.

  26. thepatriarchy
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, it’s just that, for instance, there was an obviously hateful post that was not deleted at the time i made my post. When I revisited the page, his and my posts were deleted, which seems to imply, maybe, that my post was similarly hateful. That wasn’t my intention and it was not the end result of my post. fwiw.

  27. Lilly
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I agree about the value of watching the oral arguments. I also enjoyed them.
    The other point I thought was important was that it could massively inflate sentences. A small misdemeanor of vandalism could become a hate crimes felony. The time should fit the crime.

  28. Lilly
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it turns out that the types of people that commit hate crimes are the easiest to rehabilitate. They are nowhere near as dangerous as say, antisocial personalities.

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