By Igor Volsky
WASHINGTON, D.C.—In October, President Barack Obama signed The Matthew Shepard Act, expanding the reach of the 1969 hate crimes law to “authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” Previously the law only allowed for the federal prosecution of anyone who “willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person’s race, color, religion or national origin.”
State lawmakers in Oklahoma argued that the Shepard Act would trample on the free speech rights of religious leaders “who preached out against the lifestyle of the victim who was attacked” and on March 10, the State Senate passed a bill prohibiting “local and state law enforcement agencies from sharing information about hate crimes with federal authorities if the state of Oklahoma did not recognize the crime as a hate crime by its own statutes.” Oklahoma state law does not recognize “sexual orientation or gender identity” as a special class and fails to provide gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals with hate crimes protections.
But in trying to strip LGBT Oklahomans of their rights, the Oklahoma State Senate inadvertently cited the wrong section of the U.S. code and allowed state law enforcement officials to keep crimes motivated by race or religion out of the hands of federal authorities. The bill stripped protections under Title 18 U.S. Code Section 245, but protections for sexual orientation and gender identity are actually under Section 249. From the bill:
Section 24A.12. Except as otherwise provided by state or local law, the Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma and agency attorneys authorized by law, the office of the district attorney of any county of the state, and the office of the municipal attorney of any municipality may keep its litigation files and investigatory reports confidential, except they shall keep their litigation files and investigatory reports confidential upon request of any federal agency when such request is made for the purpose of an attempt to investigate or prosecute an individual or individuals pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 245, except for those records of any individuals convicted pursuant to Section 850 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes.
“The bill in its current form doesn’t take away rights from gays and lesbians,” Oklahoma State Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice explained. “It takes away rights for religion and race.”
“This is most likely a legislative error or at least a typo,” he said. “Gay and lesbian citizens should be upset because someone tried to take their rights away, but minority groups should be concerned that their rights have already been voted to be taken away by the Senate.” “People who consider themselves Jewish, black, even Christians should be outraged,” he added. The bill will likely be modified before it is voted on in the House.