The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed the House by a wide margin in the spring. Debate included a rousing short speech by Democratic U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, who referenced the fact that Shepard died at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, in her 4th District. Shepard had been attacked in Wyoming, tied up and beaten because he was gay.
The act is up for vote today in the Senate, an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act. The Hate Crimes law seeks to prosecute crimes committed against people due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Christian groups, including James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, vehemently oppose the Act. Dobson called it an “utter evil.”
The groups oppose the new law for the way it might trammel or chill their right to free expression. That is, they want to be able to hold forth freely in opposition to homosexuality without fear that they might later be tied to criminal acts against gay people.
There is also threading through the opposition a fear that the Act legitimizes sexual practice and “lifestyle choices” that the Christian leaders do not condone as an article of their faith. The idea in particular that the Shepard Act seeks to extend protections from violence to pedophiles, disturbs the Act’s opponents.
According to [Congressmen Louie Gohmert, R-Texas] if a religious leader teaches “that homosexuality is wrong and someone goes out and commits a crime of violence then [the religious leader] can be arrested for inducing that person to do it and under existing Federal Law you are as guilty as the one who committed the act of violence.”
Dobson then quipped in response, “So much for the 1st amendment.”
Dobson also expressed his concern that, “The broad definition [of sexual orientation] could mean anything including the 30 forms of sexual deviancy that are listed by the American Psychiatric Association.”
In addition the House version of the bill, titled the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act, was met with alarm by conservative lawmakers after the House Judiciary Committee refused an amendment proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to specifically exclude pedophiles from the protection.
As the committee had also refused to define or restrict the definition of the term “sexual orientation,” one Democrat representative lauded the bill as granting heightened federal protection for all of the 547 “paraphilias” or sexual aberrations documented by the American Psychological Association.
In the House debate, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) urged passage of the bill with the understanding it would grant all known sexual fetishes heightened federal protection.
“This bill addresses our resolve to end violence based on prejudice and to guarantee that all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, or – (Hastings here lifted a several-page document) – all of these ‘-philias’ and fetishes and ‘-isms’ that were put forward, need not live in fear because of who they are.”
Currently the term “sexual orientation” is not defined in the hate crimes bill, and is only defined in one law in the books, a law that is not referenced in the bill. Gohmert said that when a judge is trying to figure out how to define a term that is not defined in the law and does not reference another law, the judge gives the term the plain meaning.
“Some judge is going to finally say, ‘Sexual orientation’ means exactly what the words say: it is whatever you are oriented toward sexually.”
Congressman [Steve King, R-Iowa], in attempting to pre-empt this catch-all definition of “sexual orientation,” proposed an amendment that would prevent pedophiles from being protected under H.R.1913. Pedophilia is one of the “sexual orientations” listed by the American Psychiatry Association. The amendment, however, was rejected. “We have a record roll-call vote that shows every Democrat on the judiciary committee voting to have pedophiles protected under sexual orientation,” said King.
But, as the Colorado Independent reported in May, assertions that the Act would protect pedophiles under the category of a sexual orientation were roundly dismissed as preposterous by legal and criminology analysts quoted at the Pulitizer Prize-winning PolitiFact.com, a project of the St. Petersburg Times. The site awarded the claim its special “Pants on Fire” designation, reserved for lies so outrageous there isn’t a shred of truth to be found.
The opponents’ arguments display a fundamental misunderstanding of the words “sexual orientation,” said Arthur Leonard, a professor of law at New York Law School and an expert in gay rights and discrimination based on sexual orientation. …
“There are no cases, zero, at the federal or state level that even remotely resemble what Rep. King and other opponents have talked about,” [Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League] said. “It’s make-believe.”
“It’s laughable,” said Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University and co-chair of the Center on Violence and Conflict. “Why should it happen at the federal level when it hasn’t happened at the state level. They are setting up a straw man…It’s a convenient way of arousing public fear about something that is quite benign.”
So we’ve found nothing to support the opponents