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Volume 71, Issue 18, Thursday, September 15, 2005

Opinion

Gay law an odd sign of change

Zach Lee
Opinion columnist

In a move that has become sadly predictable, gays have been associated with child molestation. This time though, it's a good thing.

Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives backed a measure designed to expand hate crime protection to gays, Reuters reported. The amendment would expand federal hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. In recent years, the U.S. Senate passed similar legislation, but conservatives in the House blocked it.

The measure was tacked onto the bipartisan Children's Safety Act, legislation written to tighten reporting requirements for child sex offenders, and has not yet been passed by the Senate. It still, however, represents an important step in the struggle for gay rights. In the wake of scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, gays have often been grouped with child sex offenders. Needless to say, those aren't the best representatives for a group struggling to gain political power and moral equality.

If the bill and its amendment do pass, it will be interesting to realize that it took child molesters to convince lawmakers that gays deserve the same protection afforded to other minorities. The moral grounds that have served as the battlefield for much of the debate surrounding gay rights seem to have faded in the face of something that even liberals can agree is a very serious moral offense.

Legislators should be applauded for the move, but it is sad that it took sexual predators to overshadow the imagined moral depravity of gays. That's like the civil rights movement riding in on the coattails of a bill aimed at harsher punishment for cannibals. It has taken a crime generally considered to be one of the worst to help protect citizens that deserve the same legal protection as everyone else.

Gays across the country have been able to have sex legally since the Supreme Court struck down all remaining state sodomy laws June 23, 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, but they have made minimal gains in the U.S. political arena since then. 

Inclusion in hate crime legislation is a step that should have been taken long ago: It avoids the delicate fiber of religion that entangles gay marriage. It doesn't call parts of the Bible into question or mix up longstanding social institutions, except, of course, for gay-bashing. All the new measure does change is the criteria for what can be considered hate in this country. 

The Federal Hate Crimes Law, the first far-reaching law of its kind in the United States, was passed in 1969 -- 36 years ago. The idea of a hate crime itself is new enough to change readily, but legislators have been reluctant to amend the original parameters of the law. That gays are treated like second-class citizens in this country should be no surprise, but that it takes sexual predators to give them certain rights most definitely should be surprising.

At the very least, the Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas should have put to rest the thought of gays as sexual predators. Whatever moral qualms some may have with homosexuality, legal issues should have been squelched with the sodomy laws in 2003. Since then, there has not been a law anywhere that said anything about the illegality of homosexuality, and the same legal protection given other minorities should be made available to gays.

The idea of some crimes being classified as hate crimes has its own set of opponents, but the fact is that our judicial system utilizes the hate crimes system, and to protect some minorities while excluding others is, to put it simply, unjust. 

Lee, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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