10/9/09-by Isabell James
The House voted today to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes. The Senate should vote on the bill early next week, and then it goes to President Obama for his signature. If passed, the new definition would include hate crimes committed because of a person’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability to existing protections for bias crimes based on race, color, religion, and national origin.
“This measure is long overdue and I am pleased that Congress has voted to do what’s right,” said Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. “Martin Luther King, Jr. often said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ We see that beautifully illustrated here today,” said Baldwin who is Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and a longtime champion of this legislation.
The final passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, also known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 was included in the conference report to the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647) that passed the House (281-146) today.
“We passed this bill not to provide a group of people with special protections, but because of a history of heinous, violent crimes intended to terrorize individuals who share these characteristics,” Baldwin explained.
Part of a broad $681 billion Pentagon policy measure,The Matthew Shepard Act was named for the young gay man killed after being tortured in a 1998 hate-motivated crime. This bill sends an important message that these types of crimes (targeting women, gays and lesbians, transgender individuals, and people with disabilities) will no longer be tolerated.
House Republicans accused Democrats of legislative blackmail. Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, a senior Republican member of the committee, said “We believe this is a poison pill, poisonous enough that we refuse to be blackmailed into voting for a piece of social agenda that has no place in this bill.”
Final Pentagon measure must be approved by the Senate; however, the hate crimes provision has extensive support there. In a comment exclusively for LezGetReal, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, John McCain said, “You know I didn’t support the hate crimes bill, but the DOD authorization bill is part of a larger picture, there is a lot in this Defense bill I don’t like, you have to look at the bigger picture.”
Michigan Democrat, Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the FBI recorded more than 77,000 hate crimes from 1998 through 2007. Crimes based on sexual orientation were on an upward trend. “The hate-crimes act will hopefully deter people from being targeted for violent attacks because of the color of their skin or their religion, their disability, their gender, or their sexual orientation, regardless of where the crime takes place,” he said.