Civil liberties larger issue affecting gays

Freedom New Mexico

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation making it a federal crime to assault somebody due to his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

The legislation was named for Matthew Shepard, who tragically became a household name after dying from being brutally beaten and tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998.

Proponents for this legislation see it as a major win in “protecting” gays and lesbians from violence, but rationally, it’s hard to see how this argument could be true. We may not completely understand what goes on in the criminal mind, but it’s unlikely anyone intending to break the law with an act of violent bigotry will be dissuaded by the possibility of an enhanced sentence. And proponents haven’t provided any real evidence that hate crimes are likely to decrease due to this law.

Hate crime laws don’t make us safer — they just make the likely targets of hate crimes feel like they’re protected, and this is a problem. We should not be passing laws based on how they make us feel. We should pass new laws to address crimes that currently go unaddressed, and existing sentencing laws are sufficient to deal with violent crimes, regardless of the motives.

In fact, laws and sentencing guidelines put into place in order to make people feel safe have created significant cultural problems in the United States. Consider America’s drug war.

Laws against drug abuse exist for the purpose of making people feel safe by putting addicts and dealers behind bars. The cold, rational reality is the drug war has made this country a violent battleground. Yet, political leaders persist on arguing that the drugs themselves are the source of the danger and must be outlawed, ignoring the violent black market that has developed due to the government’s own prohibition efforts.

Drug laws politicians use to garner votes from the fearful citizenry, under the promise of keeping them safe, have actually made our country more dangerous.

A recent poll further illustrates the dangers of using the law to make people “feel safe.” A Gallup poll showed that among the two-thirds of Americans who support the death penalty, around half believe that somebody innocent has been executed in the past five years. People have been so socialized to live in fear that even the reality of the state murdering innocent people is not enough to eliminate the death sentence — because it makes us “feel safe.”

Hate crime laws are yet another example of Americans trying to deal with cultural problems by outlawing the symptoms.

The paradox here is the lengthy struggle to change Americans’ attitude toward homosexuality is ultimately more effective in reducing hate crimes than passing more laws. Culturally motivated crimes need to be fought through cultural engagement, not by federal legislation. The Matthew Shepard Act wouldn’t even have saved Matthew Shepard, but the national response and discussion as a result of his death may have caused enough of a cultural shift to have saved others.

While all this work went into passing a law that isn’t necessary and won’t really accomplish anything, there are actual civil rights issues affecting gays and lesbians that need to be addressed on the federal level. The military’s policy of ejecting servicemen and women who are openly gay, as well as the federal government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed by states where they’re legal, are both problems that can only be solved by action by the president and Congress.

Those who would like to see changes in these areas should be worried that Obama and Congress will decide they’ve done “enough” for their gay voters and that we’ll see little movement on these legitimate civil rights issues.