On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act—which extends federal hate crime protections to gays and lesbians—by a vote of 249-175. The Congressional Black Caucus overwhelmingly supported the legislation. There are 42 members of the CBC. Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, of course, did not vote on the House bill. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Donna Christian-Christensen are non-voting delegates. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Al Green of Texas missed the roll call but previously voted for Hate Crimes and ENDA and have solid pro-gay records (PDF). Of the 37 members who could vote on the bill, 36 supported it.
The only "no" vote came from the predictably anti-gay Artur Davis, the conservative Democrat from Birmingham who boasts an abysmal 45 percent score (PDF) by the Human Rights Campaign. Davis joined the entire Alabama congressional delegation—"including two other purported 'Democrats'" reports Birmingham Blues—to oppose the gay-inclusive legislation.
Two years ago, I voted for federal hate crimes legislation. Since casting that vote, a number of my constituents have made it very clear to me that they disagreed with this vote, and I have tried to weigh their arguments carefully. Some of the objections have been based on distortions of what this bill actually does. Other objections have reflected nothing more than animosity toward some of the groups who would be covered.
Some of my constituents ask why our federal laws should pick out some Americans for more protections than others. Some wonder why, in a culture that rejects violence against any human being, we should say that an attack on a black, or a woman, or a gay individual should be punished more severely than an attack on someone who happens to be a senior citizen, or a soldier, or a teacher. Others ask why some motives based on certain ideas should be punished by our criminal laws more aggressively than others.
The biggest difference between 2007 and now: Davis is running for governor. If elected the state's first black chief executive, Time magazine writes in a glowing profile this week, his "election would deliver another blow to what remains of the G.O.P.'s racially divisive Southern Strategy." Oh and refusing to acknowledge anti-gay violence and harassment is a quick and cheap way to beef up his conservative credentials in the overwhelmingly red state.
Davis was also the only black congressman to oppose the historic ENDA vote in 2007. (Clarke and Towns voted "no" because it did not include transgender protections.) At the time, Davis employed similarly fuzzy logic and Keith Boykin noted the irony: "White racists in Alabama opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 using almost the same identical argument he uses to justify his opposition to this legislation. In 1964, they said the civil rights law would unfairly impede on the rights of individual employers to make their own decisions."
It's great that we have a congressman who has a shot at being Alabama's first black governor. But there is absolutely nothing progressive about him, or his candidacy, if Davis refuses to recognize discrimination and bias attacks against another minority. It's a shame and a disgrace that Davis parrots the exact same bigoted and myopic arguments once used by racist Alabamans such as Gov. George Wallace. Davis, of all people, should know better. Shame on you, congressman.