Fighting Discrimination

Religious Right Attorney Opposes Including LGBTQ Americans In Anti-Lynching Bill

  Rob Boston

Mathew Staver, a Religious Right attorney and head of Liberty Counsel, doesn’t much like LGBTQ people. He has a long track record of saying hateful things about them and has worked in court to deny them their basic rights and dignity. (Staver represented Kim Davis, the former head clerk in Rowan County, Ky., who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.)

But Staver stooped even lower recently when he announced opposition to extending protections to LGBTQ people in a bill that is designed to make lynching a federal crime.

The measure, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, passed the Senate last year but failed to get through the House of Representatives; it will likely resurface this term.

Versions of the bill have been introduced in Congress for more than 50 years. The idea behind it is simple: It would elevate lynching to a federal crime to boost the chances of successful prosecutions.

A little history is helpful: During Reconstruction in the 19th century and afterwards well into the 20th, members of domestic terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan who lynched African-Americans were either not charged at all or, if they did go to trial, were found not guilty by local juries. It was clear that officials in Southern states had no intention of taking these crimes seriously. While that’s less of a problem these days, making lynching a federal crime would allow the resources of the federal government to come into play (including the FBI) and greatly increase the probability that people who engaged in murder and terrorism will be held accountable.

Historically, African-Americans were the primary victims of lynching. But in this era, LGBTQ people and others are often targets of hate crimes too, so the bill’s scope has been expanded. It would offer protection to people on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender/sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. (Although the bill refers to lynching in its title, it covers a variety of offenses that would “cause bodily injury,” such as beatings and other forms of assault.)

This would seem to be non-controversial, yet it put Staver on the warpath.

“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,” Staver told OneNewsNow, a website run by the American Family Association. “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.”

Added Staver, “So far they’ve been unsuccessful over the many years in the past, but this is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill, and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the jugular at some time in the future.”

OneNewsNow opined that some senators voted for the legislation without realizing it would provide “special rights for homosexuals and [transgender people].”

And what “special rights” would those be? The right not to be murdered in a gruesome fashion by hate-filled maniacs?

After word got out about Staver’s comments, he and his organization came under criticism. He responded by releasing a statement insisting it’s all a misunderstanding. You see, Staver really wants to protect everyone from lynching.

Call me skeptical. If the bill fails to include LGBTQ people, members of that community who are victims of these grotesque crimes and their families and friends who are seeking justice will be denied the powerful protection and resources that only the federal government can wield.

No one should be fooled by Staver, whose past actions and rhetoric speak for themselves. His latest effort is simply more of the same ugly homophobia he has peddled for years. Our nation is better than Staver and should prove it by rejecting his appalling bigotry.

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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