Friday, May 1, 2009

Matthew Shepard Act Passes in House

The Matthew Shepard Act, which would extend federal protection to LGBT victims of violence under a hate-crimes passed in the House yesterday by a 249-175 vote. This is a landmark bill that hopefully will help make sure that perpetrators of hate crimes like the men who killed Matthew Shepard in 1998. It's times like these that I'm glad that there's a 78-seat Democratic party advantage in the House. Hopefully the more problematic (and undemocratic) will pull through and rally behind the Matthew Shepard act for what it is: the next major step in civil rights.

With a bill that does nothing but protect individuals from hate-crimes based on avictim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, one might wonder what those 175 representatives objected to. The answer, according to a Fox News story is that social conservatives feel that the Matthew Shepard Act chills free speech. Really? Last time I checked, tying a 21 year old boy to fence, pistol whipping him, torturing him, crushing his brain stem and leaving him to die in rural Laramie isn't free speech. Hate-crimes bills aren't designed to quash dissenting ideas, they seek to protect individuals from violent offenses based on their identity. Shame on you House Republicans. This is beyond political, its inhuman.

The far-right position that protecting people like Matthew Shepard is a bad idead isn't even as crazy as the Republican response gets. We expect more out of the party of Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck, right? An article in the Huffington Post shares the delifghtful opinion of North Carolina congresswoman Virginia Foxx that Matthew Shepard's death was all a hoax. In her alternate reality, Matthew Shepard was merely the victim of a robbery, and his death as a victim of a hate-crime was invented to further the liberal agenda and impose "oppresive" bills that protect the innocent like the Matthw Shepard Act. Though Foxx later apologized for using the word "hoax", Shepard's mother Judy wasn't exactly mollified saying: "It's apologizing for semantics, not her ignorance". Tell it like it is Judy!

In response to the passage of the Matthew Shepard Bill in the House, the always awesome Rachel Maddow had Judy Shepard on to discuss the new bill. The interview is absolutely brilliant and very moving. Check it out:

Rachel Maddow's impassioned defense of hate-crimes legislation from the segment is also perhaps the best I've ever heard:

"MADDOW: The concept behind this kind of legislation is often misconstrued but here's the deal as I understand it. The idea is that the federal Justice Department can get involved in a case to help local authorities or even to take the lead on a case if need be, in prosecuting individual serious violet crimes and murders in which the victim was selected on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability - the idea that crimes like that are intended not only to hurt or murder an individual, but to terrorize an entire community, and so there is a national interest in ensuring that those crimes are solved and prosecuted, particularly if local law enforcement doesn't want to because they are blinkered by the same prejudice that led to the crime in the first place."

Hate-crimes bills aren't about political corectness: this is protecting real people's lives and real endangered commmunities.