There are, I think, two coherent positions on hate crime laws. The first is opposition to the entire concept, its chilling effect on free speech, its undermining of the notion of equality under the law, and so on. That's my position. I oppose all hate crimes laws, regardless of the categories of individuals they purport to protect. The other coherent position is the view that hate crimes somehow impact the community more than just regular crimes and that the victims of such crimes therefore deserve some sort of extra protection under the law. The criteria for inclusion in such laws is any common prejudice against a recognizable and despised minority. The minority need not be defined by an involuntary characteristic - religious minorities are so protected - and they choose their faith. Nor need the minority be accurately idetified. If a gentile is bashed because the attacker thinks he's Jewish, the hate crime logic still applies. I disagree with this, but I can accept its coherence.
But the one truly incoherent position is that hate crimes laws are fine for all targeted groups except gays. Gays are among the most common victims of hate crimes, and straight people are also targeted for being gay even when they're not. If you're going to buy the whole concept of hate crimes, it makes no sense to exclude gays - none. Notice we need no discussion of the morality or otherwise of homosexuality. All that is being punished is the perception of someone else's identity. A straight, evangelical married man could have recourse if he was bashed because someone merely perceived him to be gay. A celibate gay man in reparative therapy could have recourse as well. So no serious moral argument can be made to distinguish the gay victims of hate crimes from other victims.
The federalist argument equally applies. If it is the position of the feds that this should be left entirely to the states, fine. But to say that the feds have a role in matters of race and religion, but not sexual orientation again makes no logical sense, unless the federal government wants to send a strong message about the moral and human and political inferiority of gay people.
Perhaps making these logical arguments is futile. The reason for this veto is quite simple. Christianists simply regard homosexuality as an evil and a sickness. Any law that implies that being gay is an identity and deserves equal respect and protection as other identities is anathema to them. Implicit in their worldview - and absolutely implicit in the position of the president - is that it's okay to attack gays in a way that it's not okay to attack, say, Jews or blacks. This is the core position of the Christianists - which is why I refuse to call them Christians. Bush, we now know, is a captive of this bigotry and an enabler of it. Whatever your general views of hate crime laws, this argument holds. And this president should be ashamed.
(Photo: my friend and former editor of the Washington Blade, Chris Crain, gay-bashed by Islamists in Amsterdam. By William Waybourne.)