Last edited: February 12, 2005

The Answer Isn’t Always a New Crime on the Books

A Gay Rights Group Fights One Bad Law But Embraces Another

Greensboro News & Record, March 26, 1999
P. O. Box 20848, Greensboro, NC 27420
Fax: 336-373-7067

Give Equality North Carolina points for courage. Homosexuality is a subject most legislators wouldn’t touch with a 20-foot gavel, but the gay rights group has been outspoken in lobbying for tolerance and fair treatment for homosexuals.

This week, the group’s supporters were out in force at the General Assembly to push for two changes in state law they say would protect gays and lesbians from harassment. First, they want to repeal the state’s antique law against sodomy. Second, they want the state’s hate crime law to cover sexual orientation, gender and disability as well as race and religion.

Unfortunately, Equality North Carolina is only half right this time around. The anti-sodomy statute is bad law, but so is hate crime legislation. Ironically, the best reason for striking the sodomy law from the books – that it’s likely to be enforced capriciously – is also the reason lawmakers should resist trying to outlaw hate.

Government has no business prying into the sex lives of consenting adults – and that includes gays and lesbians. North Carolina’s law makes it a felony to "commit a crime against nature," which courts have held to include oral sex. Given that interpretation, married, heterosexual couples regularly engage in criminal behavior. But when sodomy laws are enforced at all, they tend to be focused on homosexual couples.

Hate crime laws are equally dubious. The problem is in their ambiguity. Just what is a "hate crime"? It can be defined – and enforced – as the politics of the moment dictate. The authorities should prosecute the attacker or the vandal for their acts. If the motivation clearly was bigotry, let the judge consider that during sentencing.

It’s a shameful fact that homosexuals are hated, harassed and even killed. In February, Billy Jack Gaither, a 39-year-old man living quietly in a small Alabama town, was bludgeoned to death and burned because he was gay. Last fall, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, was killed, also for being gay.

Those are horrible crimes, deserving swift, severe punishment. But would the murder of either man have been any less terrible if he had been killed for some other reason? The important thing is that justice be done, that the authorities track down the attackers and prosecute them.

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