Congress just passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. It expands the definition of hate crimes to include gays and related groups, but created fears that speech against such groups could now qualify as a crime.
Factcheck.org disputes the argument that this act will result in the prosecution of those simply speaking.
The problem lies in the notion of "hate crimes" itself. Way back in the good ol' days, the law responded simply to an act that really occurred. If I pulled out a 2x4 and hit somebody over the head with it, I'd be prosecuted for battery regardless of the victim's gender, race, sexual orientation, or whatever. The law also assumed that I might have some negative feelings, perhaps even hate, for the person that I just smacked in the head. Prosecutors and judges did not need to read my mind to figure out my motivation. I hit the guy. Mitigating circumstances or self-defense might come into play, but the state did not need to discern my personal feelings.
Hate crimes laws require the court to get inside the heads of criminals to figure out whether or not they have some prejudice that might have come into play. If one is found, extra harsh sentencing may be applied.
A man may "hate" an individual that he catches in a hotel room with his wife and beat him to a bloody pulp. A person may "hate" those of a different race or sexual orientation and do the same. In either case the law says that the aggressor is in the wrong if he or she is not facing a threat to their own person. Why should one victim of violent crime be granted a certain status and entitlement to a higher level of legal deterrence?
Sociologists might be able to come up with arguments that demonstrate a valid case for hate crimes. However, the Constitution says otherwise. All United States citizens are entitled to "equal protection under the laws," nothing more, nothing less. Applying harsher penalties dependent upon who the victim is could theoretically mean that a person would feel more deterred from beating up an individual enjoying a protected status more than just anyone else on the street. That does not meet 14th Amendment standards.
No one should be beaten or killed because of their lifestyle or the way God made them (unless the lifestyle or the way God made them leads them to harm others) but hate crimes statutes simply are not constitutional.