Three momentous events took place in America last month, but chances are you’re only aware of two of them.
The first, of course, was Hurricane Katrina—a natural disaster that laid waste to portions of three states, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents, a loss of precious life that cannot be measured, and causing physical damage that will cost billions of dollars to undo. For two solid weeks, we all were riveted to the unprecedented sights and sounds of the Gulf Coast: Filth-encrusted corpses lying abandoned in the street; media reports of gun-toting thugs raping and pillaging their way through New Orleans; throngs of evacuees waiting three, four, and five days for a fresh supply of water before boarding buses that would take them to Houston or Austin or Chicago or California—possibly forever.
The second event was U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s death in early September. Though courtwatchers had been expecting a vacancy ever since learning of his thyroid cancer last October, his passing complicated the political landscape because it came two months after Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement. As a result, President Bush moved federal appellate Judge John G. Roberts—originally nominated to replace O’Connor—to fill Rehnquist’s seat, noting it was imperative that the Court have a chief justice in place by October 3, the first day of its new term. Rehnquist was one of the Court’s most important conservative voices; O’Connor its most influential swing vote. Though O’Connor has announced she will remain until the U.S. Senate confirms her replacement, the prospect of two vacancies meant many eager politicians smelled blood in the water, as pundits speculated round the clock on cable TV.
It was against this backdrop Sept. 14 that the U.S. House of Representatives, on a 233-199 vote, passed a surprising amendment (HR 2662) to an unrelated bill (HR 3132) for the first time to include people who voluntarily choose to engage in homosexual or transgendered behavior as protected classes under federal hate crimes laws.
Why is this momentous? For starters, because it was done in the most underhanded way possible: With the nation’s back turned, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the proposal as an amendment to the Children’s Safety Act—a necessary bill that protects kids by tightening the law against sexual predators. Conservative lobbyists found out about the amendment barely 40 minutes before the vote took place—not nearly enough time to gather forces to defeat it or even educate most members on what it meant. Such tactics in the aftermath of national tragedy appear to be a pattern for homosexual activists and their legislative allies: California passed its so-called domestic partners law on Sept. 12, 2001, and its same-sex “marriage” bill, vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as contrary to Proposition 22, in Katrina’s aftermath.
Extending so-called hate-crimes protections to sexual “preferences” is also momentous because it is another attempt to expand the criminal realm of “hate” from acts like rape and murder to free speech—and perhaps even thoughts alone. This is something some in the radical left have been trying to accomplish for the last 20 years; while they demand “tolerance” for their sexual choices and tastes, the one thing they won’t tolerate themselves is criticism. With special-victims status granted by the federal government, the lack of public acceptance and approval homosexual activists get from those with faith-based opposition is something they soon will ask to have declared a criminal act, like their contemporaries in Canada and elsewhere have sought. If they receive it, it will violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech and exercise of religion. But why let such a simple thing as the Constitution get in the way of a political agenda?
Creating special classes of victims in this manner also violates the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which can be argued to guarantee equal protection under the law to all victims of crime—regardless of race, religion, or whatever subcultures or categories to which they might belong. But that didn’t seem to matter to the 30 Republicans who joined with 192 Democrats to pass Conyers’ amendment under the nation’s radar screen—even though no unbiased evidence exists to suggest that individuals engaging in homosexual or transgendered sex receive less protection under the law than anyone else.
Thankfully, a Senate committee removed the hate crimes amendment from their version of the Children’s Safety Act before they approved it Oct. 20. Had this amendment eventually been enacted, it would have been the first federal law to suggest including “transgendered” persons instead of just those who claim they are homosexual.
Nonetheless, in times past, the Senate has passed legislation adding those who believe they are homosexual to federal hate crimes laws several times; those measures all died in the supposedly more family-friendly House. Now Sen. Edward Kennedy is planning to attach his own hate crimes language (S 1145) to some other bill on the Senate floor. The saga continues.
It will take years for the Gulf Coast’s wounds to heal and many weeks for the Supreme Court to hear a case with its new lineup in place—but if the Senate someday approves an amendment similar to the one that finally escaped the House last month, the damage could resonate for generations.