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Posted at 11:49 AM ET, 03/19/2012

Tyler Clementi and the questionable wisdom of hate crime laws

Suppose ­­­­Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student who spied on his roommate, had caught him not “making out with a dude,” as he so eloquently tweeted, but with a woman. And suppose further than this hypothetical roommate was awkward and sexually inexperienced and he had utterly failed at seduction. And suppose even further that this failure — this mortification — was seen by other students who mocked him behind his back so that, as did the real roommate, he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge? Would we be dealing with a hate crime?

Probably not. We would still have a revolting invasion of privacy and the same hideous bullying (via webcam) and the same tragic death, but the aspect of bias would be missing and with it the charges that could bring Ravi an additional ten years in prison. The jury in his case was not permitted to consider the suicide, but it is what turned this case from a college disciplinary proceeding into a staple of the morning shows – a jerky prank into a hideous tragedy.

Under the law, it mattered greatly that the roommate, Tyler Clementi, was gay and what was witnessed was homosexual sex, or at least a preliminary kiss. Gays are in what might be called a protective class since they have for the longest time been the victims of discrimination and often violence. Some of this continues and it is quite clear, given the hysterical nature of the opposition to same-sex marriage, that many Americans remain ill-disposed toward homosexuals. Hate crimes laws apply to gays because gays are often hated.

But hate crime laws do more than punish crimes. They also punish thought or speech — or both. If in the course of a fight, one of the fighters utters an anti-gay (or anti-black or anti-Semitic) epithet, then the crime of assault becomes one of hate as well. Beat up a heterosexual and it’s assault. Beat up a gay and it’s assault and a hate crime – a little extra jail time for having a dirty mouth.

As a kid, I was told that the human body was worth 98 cents in chemicals. I have no idea if this is true or was ever true, but I do know that the myth made no allowance for race or sex or sexual orientation. Now we know, though, that a gay person is worth more than a heterosexual or a Jew more than a gentile or a black more than a white. The mortification of a heterosexual — the bullying and embarrassment at the heart of the play and movie “Tea and Sympathy”, which resulted in an attempted suicide – is not as serious a crime or tragedy as one affecting homosexuals. This is absurd.

The standard defense of hate crime legislation is that such crimes affect a group – gays, Jews, blacks, etc. But many crimes have that effect. A rape in a park will intimidate all women. A mugging in my neighborhood will have me on edge. Why single out specific groups? A mugging is a crime. Desecrating a synagogue wall is a crime. Assault is a crime – no matter what the sexual orientation of the victim.

The irony here is that the impetus for hate crime legislation comes from liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.  Instead of bewailing this erosion of civil liberties — the right to hate whom you please as long as no law is broken — the organization that once bravely defended the rights of neo-Nazis to march in heavily Jewish Skokie, Illinois. now has succumbed to a mindless political correctness.

 By all evidence, it is easier and safer to be a homosexual today than any time in the near or distant past. Celebrities flaunt their homosexuality — Ellen DeGeneres mentions it about once a day and until her recent cancellation, Rose O’Donnell would not shut up about hers. Whole television series have been devoted to gay relationships (“Will & Grace,” etc.) and while no one can argue that gay bias is a thing of the past, a cultural revolution has certainly occurred. Why else the sheer panic of cultural conservatives?  Hate crime laws have contributed nothing to this.

 The suicide of Tyler Clementi was both a tragedy and an outrage. But laws regarding violations of privacy and bullying already existed. It is immaterial if Clementi was caught with a man or with a woman, whether he was gay or straight. The crime was the same — and so should be the penalty.

By  |  11:49 AM ET, 03/19/2012

 
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