The South Dakota Catholic Conference (SDCC) helped to defeat a state legistlature bill that would have extended hate crime protections to LGBTQ South Dakotans.
The bill, which did not pass out of committee, would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected groups under the state’s hate crime statute.
Chris Motz, the SDCC Executive Director, testified to the committee that the Conference’s concern was that establishing a higher class of crimes could be interpreted as establishing a higher class of victims.
“Why should the law value certain lives more than others? Do hate crime laws imply that some people are more equal than others?” Motz questioned, as reported by the local Aberdeen News.
This sentiment echoed Republican Rep. Isaac Latterell, who, in voting no, questioned whether the concept of hate crime legislation itself was a 1st Amendment violation of free speech and what he called “free thought.”
However, the lack of further controversy around the state’s existing protections along lines of race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, and national origin implies that the opposition is more squarely about opposing LGBTQ rights.
A statement about the bill found on the South Dakota Catholic Conference’s website seems to confirm this sentiment. It does not argue against hate crime legislation generally, but rather asserts this specific bill is wrong because “there can be no true promotion of man and woman’s dignity unless the essential order of their creation by God is respected.”
Motz is also quoted elsewhere on the website as opposing the bill because it contradicts Catholic teaching on gender identity. “These two distinct, complementary categories [male and female] are unchangeable, and are ordered towards fruitful love in marriage and family life, which forms the secure foundation on which society is built,” said Motz, in arguing against the hate crime legislation.
The Department of Justice has found that one in six hate crimes in the United States are committed because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Hate crimes in general have risen each year since the start of the 2016 election cycle.
Hate crime legislation allows for an assessment of the psychological damage of a crime instead of prosecuting only on the basis of personal or property damage Classifying a cross burning as a hate crime, for instance, recognizes that the damage of that act extends beyond trespassing and destruction of property charges.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Kelly Sullivan, expressed to South Dakota Public Broadcasting her disappointment on the bill’s failure, especially as other legislation targeting transgender students has been introduced. “Because this vulnerable group of people is being targeted in a really large way, we need to protect them,” said Sullivan. “We need to protect the kids. We need to take measures to make sure that the LGBTQ community is protected.”
Since the SDCC does not oppose the concept of hate crimes, it is unjustifiable for them to be opposed to extending legal protections for LGBTQ victims of such crimes. Basic Catholic doctrine about the dignity of all human beings and for respect for people (even if some disapprove of them) should have governed the Catholic Conference’s position on this bill. It is simply not true that protecting human dignity of people threatens understandings of gender and creation as the SDCC executive director suggested. This kind of erroneous causal argument shows not only a severe misunderstanding of Catholic doctrine, but an amazing ignorance of how the general public understands that, above anything else, LGBTQ people are, first of all, people.
—Jonathan Nisly and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2019