Half-Measures on Gay Rights?

October 29, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama signed legislation expanding the list of federal hate crimes. Specifically, assaults motivated by animosity to a person's sexual orientation will now be considred a hate crime.

I have misgivings about the whole concept of hate crimes ( as I have noted elsewhere ), but if we are going to have a category of hate crimes, then it makes sense to add animosity to a person's sexual orientation to the list of criminally impermissible motivations, which currently include animosity toward a victim based on the victim's race, national origin, or religion.

My larger concern at the moment is whether the President's support of the legislation is intended to serve as a sop to gay rights activists, providing cover for the Obama administration's failure to move forward on more important measures, such as repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Obama had committed to repeal of this policy during the campaign, but ten months into office, he has failed to rescind this policy, which he can do on his own without the approval of Congress.

One problem with hate crimes legislation is that it is backward-looking. It "protects" gays, African-Americans, etc. after they have been attacked by some bigot. Frankly, this does not do much to assure that gays and lesbians have the full range of social and civil rights to which they are entitled. To truly integrate gays and lesbians into society, they should be assured they will be treated prospectively the same as anyone else. "Don't ask, don't tell" should be immediately repealed, and we should have federal employment legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.