Law professors James Jacobs and Kimberly Potter make an interesting point:
Laws do not spring forth from a groundswell of public opinion, but rather are the product of lobbying by interested ("interest") groups that must mobilize support among politicians. The hate crime laws are passed because of the lobbying efforts of organizations that advocate on behalf of blacks, Jews, gays, and lesbians, a few other ethnic and nationality groups, and in some cases, women. ...Regardless of what it accomplishes, the passage of legislation boosts morale and the status of the organizations and their constituencies.
That's from their excellent book on the subject, Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics (Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 66.
If liberals write laws to "send messages," can social conservatives do the same thing if they control the legislative assembly? Perhaps enact a criminal law against, say, adultery. Note that the point is not necessarily that the law be actually enforced or have any impact as far as reducing adultery in the jurisdiction. If the point is simply to "send a message," liberals are going to be hard-pressed to lodge objections to conservative symbolic lawmaking.
For more on hate crimes, go here and here.