The religious right would like you to believe that all it wants is a place at the table for people of faith. But there are times when they reveal that they have something far more sinister in mind. We got a staggering example of this earlier this week. In what may be one of the most outrageous moments from a fundie leader that doesn’t directly involve Donald Trump, one of the nation’s so-called moral guardians raised a stink over a law that would–horrors!–make it a federal crime to lynch someone just because they’re gay.
Last summer, the Senate’s three black members–Democrats Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and Republican Tim Scott–introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, which would make lynching a federal crime for the first time ever. Under the terms of the bill, if two or more people “willfully cause bodily injury to any other person” on account of the victim’s “actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability” can face up to ten years in federal prison. If the injury involves kidnapping or aggravated sexual abuse, or results in death, the assailants can face up to life in prison.
The bill’s preamble notes that nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during the second half of the 20th century, none of which passed. As Harris, Booker and Scott saw it, this represented a dereliction of “the minimum and most basic of Federal responsibilities,” especially in the wake of the over 4,700 lynchings that took place between 1882 and 1968. The Senate formally apologized for failing to enact anti-lynching legislation in 2005, but no one did much more than talk about it until last year.
Watch Booker argue for this bill here, via The Young Turks.
Ultimately, a bipartisan group of 36 other Senators signed on, and the measure passed via voice vote. Simply put, this was the right thing to do, even if it was at least a century overdue.
Despite this, the House didn’t act on it before the 2018 midterms. However, on the first day of the new Democratic majority in the House, Congressman Bobby Rush–whose Chicago-based district includes former President Obama’s home–reintroduced the bill. This version is titled as the “Emmett Till Antilynching Act” in honor of the Chicago teenager who was brutally lynched while visiting relatives in Mississippi. however, it’s only a matter of time before this bill becomes law.
Now who would have a problem with that? Well, apparently Mat Staver, president and founder of religious right law firm Liberty Counsel, has a big problem with it. In an interview with OneNewsNow, the online news service of the American Family Association, Staver let it be known he wasn’t pleased with the bill’s provisions referring to sexual orientation and gender identity.
As most religious right luminaries are wont to do, Staver claimed this provision was a slippery slope.
The old saying is once that camel gets the nose in the tent, you can’t stop them from coming the rest of the way in. And this would be the first time that you would have in federal law mentioning gender identity and sexual orientation as part of this anti-lynching bill.
Although Staver didn’t come out and say it, he seems to believe that this would amount to giving gays “special rights.” As any religious right watcher knows, any attempt to end discrimination on account of sexual orientation or gender identity brings wails of “special rights!” from the fundies.
Just in case Staver didn’t make himself clear, he claimed that if this bill passes, it won’t be long before the Democrats try to “go for the jugular in the future.” He and his team at Liberty Counsel are urging their friends in the House to get any mention of sexual orientation and gender identity stripped from the bill.
Riddle me this, Mat. If including sexual orientation and gender identity amounts to a special right, then how do you explain the fact that 47 states allow defendants to use a “gay panic defense“? In these states, a defendant can argue that unwanted same-sex advances triggered a violent reaction. Indeed, this has often resulted in defendants being convicted on lesser charges and/or receiving reduced sentences. If Staver thinks ending this travesty amounts to granting special rights, then the only reason he’s raising a stink is to set booby traps under vulnerable Democrats ahead of the 2020 election–particularly those elected in districts who voted for Trump.
It’s likely that Staver will get his bluff called sooner than later. Rush’s bill is slightly less sweeping than the Senate version. Indeed, it makes no mention of sexual orientation at all. It merely makes it a federal crime for anyone acting as part of “any collection of people, assembled for the purpose and with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person” to cause someone’s death.
Don’t be surprised if Staver tries to slip a poison pill in this bill which excludes sexual orientation and gender identity. If he does so, it will prove that he and his religious right friends are only interested in making mischief before 2020. And it will also prove that they are willing to do absolutely anything to protect Trump.
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