Let me state this up front: I'm not a fan of the political practice in Congress of attaching unrelated measures to bills that are considered must-pass legislation. I think it's a political tool that tarnishes our government and makes a mockery of what a legitimate government should be.
As the Senate votes today on broadening the definition of federal hate crimes to include people attacked based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities, Democrats have attached the Hate Crimes Law to the Defense Bill, which, if you have been paying attention at all over the last eight years, is about as "must-pass" as legislation gets in today's political climate. But I don't see this as an unrelated matter the way some Republicans in the Senate do, including Senator John McCain:
"While we have young Americans fighting and dying in two wars we're going to take up the hate-crimes bill," McCain said, "because the majority leader thinks that's more important, more important than legislation concerning the defense of this nation." And later: "The Senate will pass a highly controversial, highly explosive piece of legislation to be attached to the authorization for the defense and the security of this nation. That's wrong."
"I would argue that the defense and security of the nation implies the defense and security of its citizenry, of its people. Otherwise, just what exactly are we defending?"
What exactly defines the defense and security of a nation? I would argue that the defense and security of the nation implies the defense and security of its citizenry, of its people. Otherwise, just what exactly are we defending? Now, say what you will about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but those who have supported these wars have always defended them as our only means to fight for the right of every U.S. citizen to continue to live that life promised to us, one in pursuit of happiness. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act, named after a young man who was kidnapped, robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area, and left to die. Defending the American people is not only a matter of fighting people far away who might one day come to this country to try once again to do us harm. It's a matter of defending all of our people against those who would do us harm, whether they come from far away or are the small-minded, bigoted, hate-filled people already within our borders.
Attaching the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Defense Bill is not in contradiction to what that bill should do (i.e. help those looking to defend our country and its people). Indeed, the Hate Crime Prevention Act looks to do exactly what the Defense Bill should be set up to do: defend the nation and allow its people to live freely.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it well when he said, "If their country doesn't stand up for them, if we don't stand up for them, who will?" It is important to fight against anyone who might look to bring terror (and a crime like the one perpetrated against Matthew Shepard is most certainly terror) into the lives of people only trying to live freely. Just because John McCain thinks it's more important to defend a uniformed soldier in Iraq than a young homosexual man in Wyoming doesn't mean the rest of us have to come to that same conclusion.
David Doody is the founding editor of InDigest Magazine and the Blog Editor at Guernica.