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New rule: 'Advocate' honoree's wrong on some gay issues

by Jeremy Hooper

884E 2This is how Advocate "Person of The Year" Bill Maher spoke about hate crimes on his show Friday night:

"So – so Congress passed – the Senate passed this – or voted on this hate-crime legislation ...they attached it to the war funding bill, which, you know, that’s a tenuous read, I think, to put it on. I mean, certainly no one wants hate crimes, but I don’t understand why we even have such a thing as a hate crime. It’s a thought crime. If you kill somebody or beat somebody up, that’s a crime. Why should it matter what’s in your head?"

Comments that surely mark the first time in history that the far right want to reach across the ideological table and give Mr. Maher a big wet kiss, as his comments read like a press release from the Concerned Americans For Traditional Family Values Association. That's because the term "thought crimes" -- that's as much of a far-right code word on this issue as "marriage protection" is with that matter. And the idea that a random act of violence carries the same weight as a targeted, bias-motivated incident that's meant to send chills down the spine of an entire set of people -- well, that's exactly what the gay community's most vocal opponents would like you to hear. In fact, it's as if Maher's research on this matter came solely from camp Dobson, not camp reason.

Yes, Bill, all violent crimes are horrible and need to be eliminated. Obviously. But that's a simplistic, almost childish way of looking at this matter. It's not about punishing the "thought," but rather about punishing the act. The fact is that a person who waits outside a gay bar so that he can follow people home and bash in their brains is working from a different place and trying to send a different message than the criminal who commits random acts of violence. And due to the anti-gay attitudes that still exist in this society, gays are often scared to report violent incidents, and police forces often fail to investigate the matters in the ways that they should. Federal bias crime protections help ensure that if what is in the perp's head was "kill all gay people and encourage my fellow citizens to do the same," that society-weakening message will be investigated in ways all-encompassing and possibly punished with an extra level than if the message in his head was "kill this random dude because he looked at me the wrong way." The two crimes are meant to harm the world at varying degrees; they can be punished by that world in the same fashion.

Bill, we still very much enjoy you. However, we hope you'll actually start reading a little of the magazine that honored you, so that maybe you'll learn why your "thoughts" on these crimes need to be reconsidered.


**UPDATE: The video (comments come around 1/3 way in):

**Also, in terms of the whole "thought crimes" thing: It can not be stated enough that this version of hate crimes protections includes a specific ban on the use of speech or association to prove criminal activity, unless it specifically relates to the crime at hand.

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Your thoughts

Bill Maher's take on the hate crime bill is totally consistent with his political philosophy. His outlook is primarily that of a Libertarian. I can totally understand why Hate Crimes legislation would make him uncomfortable. In fact, it makes me, a gay man a bit uncomfortable. In your post you basically make a good argument against needing hate crime legislation - we already have laws that will punish people who commit acts of violence against gay people - or black people or Jewish people. what we need to do is report crime when it happens and make sure that the laws are enforced. I don't necessarily think that putting new laws on the books when present ones aren't being enforced is going to help a whole heck of a lot.

And just to be clear, hate crimes legislation DOES criminalize thought or attitude. You may feel that the thought is heinous enough that when a person takes action on it that it warrants criminalization; but we need to be honest that thats what we are doing. Hypocrisy and obfuscation are the tool of the other team.

I am much more ambivalent on this law than this comment would make you believe. But you caught me on a contrary day.

Posted by: mike | Oct 1, 2007 11:13:27 AM

Mike: Yea, I didn't say it was out-of-step with his political philosophy, only that it's out-of-step with the way I (and many) see the issue.

As for laws to protect gay people -- that's the thing, we DO NOT already have such laws on a national scale. Many states have no such law, and others do not protect on the basis of gender identity. What we want is to shore up protections, much in the same way we have in terms of race, religion, national origin, etc.

As for your thoughts on "thought" -- that's your opinion, not fact. And I disagree. Yes, on the base level, there is thought behind a bias-motivated incident. That's because their is thought behind every one of our actions as humans. But when the right uses the "thought crime" code-wording, they are trying to make it sound as if people will be punished simply because of what is inside their heads. They try to make it sound as if believing in Leviticus and then committing a non-related, non-bias-motivated crime will lead to hate crimes charges simply because the perp is an evangelical Christian. However, a TRUE bias-motivated incident of hate is not a situation in which one's inner monologue will be searched for any instances of homophobia, but rather a situation in which the though "I hate gays" has led the person to express an action. Again, yes, thoughts are what drive us as humans. But a TRUE "thought crime" is a completely different concept.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 1, 2007 11:26:11 AM

I understand what your saying - and that is why I'm more ambivalent about this idea than against it. When I said we already have laws that protect us I was referring to general assault and homicide laws. If they are properly enforced then the violence would be punished regardless of the motivation of the crime.

I also admit that I have been very lucky in my experience as a gay man. I have been accepted pretty much everywhere I go and my sexuality seems to be a non-issue. This might color my opinions on subjects like this.

I agree that the Right is exaggerating the idea of "thought" crime and being very disingenuous about what things will be criminalized. I also respect your opinion that bias motivation creates a difference in the crime. You have a strong argument with the idea that it becomes not only a crime of violence but a crime of intimidation of others as well. I suppose my big problem with the idea is how do you identify and prove bias. In certain cases its very obvious but I always worry about the less obvious cases.

Posted by: mike | Oct 1, 2007 12:21:55 PM

Understood, Mike. And there is certainly room for discussion on all of these matters.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 1, 2007 12:25:27 PM

I thought the Rep did a good job of pointing out why the bill was necessary. Although, I'm kind of ambivalent on this one as well. I have argued strongly with those who don't view this type of bill as necessary, at the same time, arguments like Mauer makes are compelling to me as well.

Posted by: Jonathan | Oct 1, 2007 12:34:48 PM

I always thought Maher was a whiny bitch.

Posted by: Franc | Oct 1, 2007 7:43:54 PM

I've always liked Bill Maher...but lately he is getting on my nerves. He has a lot of the characteristics of a pothead that gets high and whines about society without offering any real insight or means of change. A lot of high thoughts. He's also much too dismissive. And I've noticed during a few episodes recently, the members of congress that he has had on had to stop him and explain some aspect of the congressional process that he is completely clueless about yet believes he has all figured out. Lately, I've been watching the show to hear what his guests have to say, not listen to him gripe.

Posted by: DustinSD | Oct 1, 2007 8:45:58 PM

hate crime bill protecting gays? nonsense....

Posted by: radical response group | Oct 16, 2007 9:56:55 AM

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