While you choose to argue your point from a 'legal' perspective, I am going to argue mine from a moral perspective. ALL crime is hate. It's either hate for the person that it's committed against, hate for the simple fact that person may possess more, look better or fare much better (jealousy breeds hate) or hate for the respect due the person it's perpetrated against or the laws written and enforced to prevent such crimes. Liberals attempt to assign a 'tag' or a name to EVERYTHING. It should be just as repulsive that a gay man was murdered because he was gay or a heterosexual murdered because he wouldn't play gay with the aggressor. The aggressor should be awarded no extra points because he doesn't fit in to the square hole that is assigned for specific crimes. Crime is crime. No difference. All wrong. Burglary is burglary, murder is murder, rape is rape.
It is quite interesting, no matter how you personally feel about religion, how the very foundations of our laws was based in Mosaic law (i.e. thou shalt not kill (murder), thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, etc.) and, over the years, our criminal laws have been changed to suit the nature of the times instead of remaining constant against the nature of the crimes. Notice how no discerning circumstances were laid out in the Mosaic law such as: 'Well, he stole because his children were hungry' or 'He killed his brother because his brother insulted him in front of his family' or 'it's okay that he SAID he saw it, even though he didn't. That guy had it coming to him'. The laws were pretty plain and so were the punishments laid out for them.
We, as humans, seek to justify our actions and positions by constantly rewriting moral codes for our society. If you will take note, this has been the foundation of nearly every failed government throughout history. Laws initially intended to be applied equally across the board tend to get butchered and rewritten in order to pursue a group's own agenda, in this case, equality and discrimination. The irony is that equality is sacrificed and discrimination is committed pursuing these very laws intended to stop it. So, if a society wishes to be consistent, then there would be no such designation as a 'hate crime', since crime is already wrong and it took hate to commit it. So, any society that pursues the present course our legal system is in will fail and fail miserably to pursue equal justice for all.
I pretty much agree with that completely except for the part that we are "rewriting moral codes for our society".
You are dead correct that "It should be just as repulsive that a gay man was murdered because he was gay or a heterosexual murdered because he wouldn't play gay with the aggressor." That should go without saying. I can't imagine anyone believing any differently.
Where Hate Crime laws come into play is pretty simple. To me, Mathew Shepard, while a watershed case for that set of laws really doesn't provide a really good example.
The one that just occurred in Kentucky does a much better job.
In 2006 the Klan went to a county fair with a couple of things in mind. Recruit new members, "haze" noobs and make a statement against Illegal Aliens. Part of the hazing including the savage beating of a latino youth that that "assumed" was illegal. He was not. At 6'4"+ and 250+ each, they beat the under 150 pound teen nearly to death. They were charged with felony assault charges AND federal Hate Crime charges.
They are now spending time in the Kentucky prison system for the assault. The civil suit based on the Hate Crime conviction allowed the courts to provide compensatory award to the victim and punitive penalty to the perps. To that end, since the victim is not able to work, EVER, the second largest KLAN organization in the nation has to turn over its 15 Acre compound and up to $2.5 Million in assets.
While it most likely won't stop the Klan from all of their activities, other folks might be less likely to tie someone to the back of a truck and drag them down the highway because they are black or beat them senseless and left to die because they are gay. Hate crimes are certainly different than others. The levels of violence tend to be worse, the reasoning behind the crimes so much more warped.
While it is easy to say, on a moral ground that murder is murder, "Special Circumstance" is written into the law for a reason.
I would imagine that we will be able to truly agree that murder is murder and there would be no need for "special circumstance" about the same time that everyone considers everyone else equal. It's all tied together.