Legal loopholes: A look at Alabama's hate crime law

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - In his second inauguration speech, President Obama made a ground breaking statement by saying, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like everyone else under the law." It marked the first time that a president has advocated for gay rights in an inauguration speech.

It's a movement that is spreading all the way to the US Supreme Court, as Justices gear up to hear two gay marriage cases later this year. But while the high court will hear those cases based on love, here in Alabama, the fight continues for cases based in hate.

Alabama has a hate crime law that deals with crimes based on race, religion, or disability, but it leaves out sexual orientation and gender identification. State Representative Patricia Todd out of Birmingham has been working to change that though. She's pushed a bill for years that would add sexual orientation and gender identification to the state's hate crime law, but each year, that bill comes up short.

Rep. Todd says she believes homophobia is to blame

"You know, the majority of people in the legislature are not willing to touch this issue," she said.

While she pushes to re-word the law, people in the GLBT community work to change people's opinions. James Robinson is the Executive Director of GLBT Advocacy and Youth Services in Huntsville. He says the current mind set of people towards the gay community is reminiscent of the struggle of African American's back in the 1960's.

"It wasn't too long ago that the white majority would question why race would be included in this," said Robinson.

A crime in which this law could have possibly been applied, if it existed, is the brutal killing of Billy Jack Gaither. He was a gay man in Coosa County who was beaten to death and set on fire in 1999 by two men who claimed he made a pass at them. Both men were already sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A hate crime law would increase the penalty, meaning additional time behind bars. But since these men were already sentenced to life without parole, many wonder if there is a need for this law.

Robinson explains that it's the message that the law would send out, not necessarily the penalties behind it.

"We have to say it is not acceptable for this group, because if we don't, we're giving the silent implication that it's ok to go after that group," he said.

As progress continues to take hold across the country, many in Alabama wait for it to take hold in the state.

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