Hate Crimes and Hypocrisy

On the question of whether hates crimes legislation should be extended to cover gays, Ramesh writes:

[Brad Plumer] seems to think that it would be bigoted for conservatives to accept laws against hate crimes while opposing their extension to cover hate crimes motivated by hostility to gays. I don't see why a conservative who thinks hate-crimes laws are a bad idea generally couldn't conclude that they aren't going to be uprooted from the statute books but shouldn't be expanded in scope, either. Politicians make this sort of judgment all the time.



To which Andrew responds:

If gays were a minor or trivial category in this area, Ponnuru might have a debater's point. But, as a proportion of their population, gays are the largest single group victimized by hate crimes in the U.S., just behind all those targeted for their various religions (which includes over 90 percent of Americans, as opposed to the 3 percent that gays make up.) Doesn't excluding the most vulnerable group suggest a bizarre set of priorities? Take Ponnuru's and my religion, Catholicism. In 2004, there were 57 hate crime incidents recorded against Catholics. In the same year, there were 1,197 such incidents against gays - and yet Catholics vastly outnumber gays in the general population. What sense does it make to include Catholics (and Zoroastrians and Mormons) in hate crime laws but not gays - who are exponentially more likely to be victims?



But if you oppose hate crimes legislation in principle (as Andrew does, for what I think are very good reasons) but recognize that it's politically unfeasible to roll back the laws we have on the books, the fact that gays "are the largest single group victimized by hate crimes in the U.S." would seem to be an argument against extending hate crime laws to cover them, not an argument in favor of it. Suppose I opposed any ban on abortion, but lived in a country where the practice was illegal in the third trimester, and where public sentiment made rolling back the late-term ban unfeasible. Then suppose a politician proposed extending that ban to cover the first two trimesters. It wouldn't make any sense for my pro-life friends to say, in an effort to persuade me to support the ban's extension: "hey, we already have a ban on abortion, and most abortions take place in the first two trimesters, so if you accept the late-term ban, you should accept the early-term ban as well." If a law's bad, but you can't get rid of it, the last thing you would want to do is expand it dramatically.

I understand where Andrew's coming from in this argument - he's reacting against the double standard of having hate-crime protections for Catholics but not for gays, and he's of course right that the reason that many GOP lawmakers feel comfortable drawing the hate-crimes line where they do is because of the persistence of anti-gay sentiment. His opposition to hate crimes laws, in other words, is taking a back seat to his desire for gay equality; if we're going to have unjust laws, he thinks, they should cover gays as well as blacks and Jews and so forth. But if you believe that prosecuting someone for what's in their heart, as opposed to what they've done, is illiberal and arguably unconstitutional, does it really make sense to dramatically expand such prosecutions just to prove a point of principle? Or put another way, if hate crimes laws are really "a contest of vulnerability in which one group vies with another to establish its particular variety of suffering, a contest that can have no dignified solution," as Andrew once eloquently put it, then why does he want homosexuals to be ushered into the contest? Just because Pat Robertson doesn't want them there?