I believe there is a value in society deeming some crimes as being more “bad” than others. Generally, this is done by making the sentences longer for some crimes than others. And so it is with hate crime legislation. Society (through its legislative bodies) deems certain crimes as worse than others. Murder is considered a worse crime than assault and battery so murderers get longer sentences than batterers.

But in the case of hate crimes, what makes a crime worse than other is not the act itself. What makes the crime worse is the motivation for the act. “I beat up that guy because he’s gay and I hate gay people” is considered a worse battery than “I beat up that guy because he owes me money and I hate people who don’t pay their debts.”

At one level, this is good. Society recognizes that groups of people, categories of people are disproportionately the victims of crimes and that the motivation for these crimes is an animus because of a trait these people have (or are perceived to have). Calling crimes motivated by this animus “worse” than similar crimes motivated by another reason is a way of society saying that the animus itself is not okay.

And I think that we, as a society, should say that it’s not okay to hate someone because of their (actual or perceived) race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, and so forth.
We should say that it’s not okay, but I have a problem with criminalizing such animus. And classifying crimes motivated by such hatred as being worse than the same crime motivated by something else (even a different sort of hatred, like hating people who don’t pay their debts) criminalizes thoughts and feelings. This liberal has a hard time with that.