Religion is an “Immutable Characteristic,” Sexual Orientation is Not

For months now, I’ve been trying to understand the reasoning behind the Republican and right-wing opposition to adding hate crimes protections for sexual orientation, noting that while they regularly complain that certain groups of people shouldn’t be getting “special rights” or receiving extra protection, they are perfectly content to allow the existing hate crimes protections for religion to remain on the books.

As it turns out, the reason I couldn’t understand their reasoning is that it is apparently rooted in a belief that sexual orientation is a choice, while religion is not

Last week, House Republican Leader John Boehner objected to House passage of a bill that would expand hate crime laws and make it a federal crime to assault people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“All violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, no matter what the circumstance,” he said. “The Democrats’ ‘thought crimes’ legislation, however, places a higher value on some lives than others. Republicans believe that all lives are created equal, and should be defended with equal vigilance.”

Based on that statement, contacted Boehner’s office to find out if the minority leader opposes all hate crimes legislation. The law as it now stands offers protections based on race, color, religion and national origin.

In an email, Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said Boehner “supports existing federal protections (based on race, religion, gender, etc) based on immutable characteristics.”

It should be noted that the current law does not include gender, though the expanded legislation would cover gender as well as sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

“He does not support adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes,” Smith continued.

Boehner’s position, then, appears to be grounded in the notion that immutable characteristics should be protected under hate crimes laws. And while religion is an immutable characteristic, his office suggests, sexual orientation is not.