03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

ReThink Review: Outrage -- One Reason Why the Bird/Shepard Hate Crimes Act Took So Long

How do you get republicans, who take such pride in their talent for "supporting the troops" and "defending America", to vote against a defense bill in the midst of two wars? Make it a defense bill that defends gay people!

That's right -- 35 republican senators voted against the defense bill because it contained a provision called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would make it a federal hate crime to assault someone based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. This legislation has languished in Congress since 1998, the year that Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by two men because he was gay. That same year, Byrd, a 49-yr-old black man, was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death by white supremacists.

Republican-controlled Congresses during the Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations (along with the threat of a Bush Jr. veto) kept this legislation from a presidential signature, which still had to be attached to this year's defense bill to ensure it wouldn't be blocked by a republican filibuster.

Why do repubs hate this hate crimes bill so much that they would risk their "I support the troops!" credentials by voting against it? Their justifications have ranged from the hypocritical (abuse of Senate procedure) to the nonsensical (being gay is a choice, whereas religion is not) to the irrational (the bill will prosecute "thought crimes").

But the main reason is because hatred/fear of gays is running neck-and-neck with hatred/fear of government for the most defining, unifying characteristic of the "modern" republican party. Gay marriage or anything that would lead to increased acceptance of gay people is considered unacceptable and a danger to America. This was perhaps best exemplified by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) who claimed that the Shepard/Bird hate crimes bill would lead to legalized necrophilia, bestiality, pedophilia, and somehow, Nazism (though Gohmert is not the first republican to make these comparisons). It has been the repub party's go-to surefire way to energize their base and get them to the polls.

That's right -- as this latest vote proves, republicans now hate gays more than they love militarism and love pretending they give a damn about soldiers.

How did the republicans get this way? Don't they have any gay friends or colleagues who could set them straight (no pun)? As Kirby Dick's excellent 2009 documentary Outrage shows, they probably do, whether they be gay staffers, members of the media, or even fellow repub congressmen. But as the film points out, many of these gay republicans are so profoundly closeted that they attempt to disguise their sexuality by fighting against every piece of legislation that could be construed as helping gay people, from gay marriage to gay couples being allowed to adopt to the Shepard/Bird hate crimes act. By doing this, these closeted repubs effectively distort the debate on gay rights because their votes have little to do with justice or sound policy analysis and everything to do with their own shame, hypocrisy, and the GOP's desire to pander to their homophobic base.

Watch my ReThink Review of Outrage below.

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