Thursday, February 11, 2010

Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act: Checking In

[Cross-posted at Our Big Gayborhood]

President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act into law on October 28, 2009. This law expanded federal hate crimes legislation to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

Before Obama signed this law, those opposed to LGBT rights warned us of many Great Harms that would result from this expansion. Today, we are going to examine whether any of these predictions have come true yet.

1) The American Family Association warned that the expansion of this law was set to give "special protection status to pedophiles" and "30 different sexual orientations." Anti-gay outlets such as the Traditional Values Coalition, Liberty Counsel, World Net Daily, Concerned Women for America, and the Digital Network Army also echoed this claim of, what many of them dubbed as, the "Pedophile Protection Act."

For what these groups claimed this "special protection status to pedophiles" would tangibly entail, we need only look at this histrionic and factually erroneous (for wrongly claiming that the hate crimes law did not protect on the basis of religion) piece at WorldNetDaily. Citing Rep. Louis Gohmert or Janet Porter (it's not clear from the article), one of the two breathlessly claims:

"Do you realize what that means?

If a mother hears that their [sic] child has been raped and she slaps the assailant with her purse, she is now gone after as a hate criminal because this is a protected class. There are other protected classes in here. I mean simple exhibitionism. I have female friends who have told me over the years that some guy flashed them, and their immediate reaction was to hit them with their purse. Well now, he's committed a misdemeanor, she has committed a federal hate crime because the exhibitionism is protected under sexual orientation."

Other than the fact that Porter (or was it Gohmert?) seems to have a bizarre fixation on ladies hitting "sexual deviants" with purses, the American Psychiatric Association actually recognizes only 4 sexual orientations and they are all based on whether a person is attracted males, females, both, or neither and exists along a continuum of strictly homosexual to strictly heterosexual. Sexual orientations, which are not considered to be mental disorders, can be contrasted with sexual paraphilias such as pedophilia, exhibitionism, and 27 other conditions- which are considered impairments to normal functioning.

And so, not surprisingly, as of today, more than 3 months after the Hate Crimes expansion was signed into law, not a single pedophile (or any other person with a sexual paraphilia) has been successfully "protected" by invoking the Matthew Shepard and James Bird, Jr. Hate Crimes Act.

How do I know this?

Because we all know for damn sure that had this happened, every single one of the above anti-gay outlets would have bleated this via e-blast, Action Alert, and astro-turf blog posts.

2) In addition, Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber breathlessly claimed, after the law's passage, that Christians were now on "high alert" because this law would "muzzle" Christians and pastors, who could possibly be prosecuted for their anti-gay speech.

In reality, the law contains a provision specifically (and unnecessarily) reminding everyone that the law does not restrict people's First Amendment rights regarding free speech and expression. Even if that provision were not included, mere speech- without an attack on a person- is not a "hate crime." Somebody's words (like "faggot" or "dyke") when coupled with an overt attack on a person could be used to demonstrate the commission of a hate crime, but "just" calling a person a slur is not a hate crime. Just as preaching that "God Hates Fags" is not a hate crime.

Thus, if Christians have chosen to "muzzle" themselves, they have done so unnecessarily. But assuming that they've chilled out on the anti-gay speak at all would be, in my experience, a dubious assumption. I can't, of course, delve into the cockles of every anti-gay Christian's mind to determine if they, out of fear of being arrested for a hate crime, are now not saying things about LGBT people that they used to say. Nonetheless, we do know that (a) no Christians or pastors have yet been arrested and prosecuted for mere anti-gay speech and (b) Christian anti-gay speech is still readily available on the internet, radio, and pulpit.

In fact, just yesterday, I visited some of the most, in my opinion, virulently anti-gay Christian websites and saw that they are still in existence, spreading exactly the same messages that they have been spreading pre-October 2009 before Christians went on "high alert." How about that.

Observe, for instance, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth [sic] About Homosexuality, preaching the "truth" [trigger warning: linked content contains aggressive homo-obsession] about the latest gay person he's decided to verbally slam:

"...[T]hat O’Mara professes to practice monogamy with her lesbian partner confers no legitimacy on her sinful relationship, nor does it negate the damage that her intentionally fatherless parenting will do to the boys they are raising."

And here, he criticizes the US and other Christians for opposing and interfering with Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill.

Despite the fact that LaBarbera's writings are just as histrionic, virulently anti-gay, and hysterical as they were before the Hate Crimes Act went into effect, LaBarbera has not been arrested or prosecuted for his Christian preachings to the choir. Nor will he be or should he be.

To end here, this process has reminded me of Aesop's The Boy Who Cried Wolf. With every incremental gain, or the possibility of one, those opposed to LGBT rights regularly make scary large and predictions about homofantastic dystopias wherein Christians are imprisoned and society is, literally, destroyed. Surely, they don't think we've forgotten all of their claims. Surely, there will come a time when even their own believers will remember what they have said before. For:

"Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth."

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