When the hell did I turn into a political blogger?
I just got an HRC email expressing unqualified joy:
I have great news to share: the Senate has passed the Matthew Shepard Act!
The bill will soon be on its way to President Obama’s desk, where he’ll get a chance to make good on his promise to sign it.
This vote came on the heels of tremendous pressure from radical right-wing groups that used every trick in the book.
They called the bill the “Pedophile Protection Act,” among other outrageous claims. They dismissed the barbaric hate crime that took Matthew Shepard’s life as a “hoax.” They flooded the Senate with hundreds of thousands of letters and calls.
But your calls, emails, and financial support for our work helped make sure the truth prevailed in the end. Without you, this victory for equal rights would not have been possible.
And then it goes on to ask me to call my senators and thank them. Which is fine, but there are a lot of problems with this email that misrepresent the current state of hate crimes in the Senate. First of all, the Matthew Shepard Act did not pass as a standalone bill, as this message indicates; it’s an amendment attached to the FY2010 defense authorization bill, which, because the Democrats cut a deal with the GOP to get the amendment passed, also features amendments introduced by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that do some good things and some bad things but overall make the hate crimes legislation much less clean-cut. And this, according to the Washington Blade, is what Sessions had to say about the legislation, which has now been substantially impacted by him:
Prior to the vote on the amendments, Sessions spoke out on the floor Monday against the measure, which he called a “substantial overreach by Congress.”
“The bottom line is there’s nowhere near the evidence needed to justify this legislation,” he said.
Sessions said the measure provides protections for classes that “don’t have clear meanings,” and identified gender identity as such an unclear category.
“I’m not sure this is good legislation,” he said. “I think legislation ought to be crisp and clear.”
Sessions said existing hate crimes statues providing protections for race and other categories were enacted because of a substantial body of evidence showing that black people were being denied civil rights. He said LGBT Americans aren’t facing problems in a similar way.
“Gays and lesbians have not been denied access to basic things like health, schooling or the ballot box,” Sessions said, adding that gay people “have no difficulty in approaching government officials.”
Sessions also quoted a May 13 posting by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, who called the concept of hate crimes “a hard-left critique of conventional liberal justice and the emergence of special interest groups which need boutique legislation to raise funds for their large staffs and luxurious buildings.”
“This is a gay man expressing his opinion,” Sessions said. “No doubt he takes these issues very seriously.”
Oh, well then. Because we all know that Andrew Sullivan speaks for the entire LGBT community.
Furthermore, there’s this whole matter of funding for F-22 fighter jets. The defense authorization bill currently contains funding for these planes that are apparently a waste of money; the President has said he’ll veto the bill if it retains the F-22s. The Senate scheduled to vote on an amendment stripping the funding today, and that Blade article I quoted from above said, “two sources familiar with Capitol Hill have told the Blade that a Democratic Congress wouldn’t send to a Democratic president a defense bill that he would veto,” but neither of these things is exactly a done deal. There’s a very real chance that the President could veto the bill, and then we won’t have hate crimes at all.
So, HRC, why don’t you make an effort to get in touch with reality and feed your email list information that paints the situation more accurately. As far as I can tell, the best thing to do for hate crimes is to see that the Senate gets rid of the F-22 funding, whether through this amendment or somewhere before the bill gets to Obama. And while I’m not an expert in national security or anything, getting rid of the F-22s is probably a good thing for the defense budget in general as well.
UPDATE: Kerry Eleveld, whom I trust on all matters LGBT Washingtonian, says things look good for the Levin-McCain amendment, which would strip the F-22 funding. That’s very encouraging, but it would still be unwise to count any chickens.