House Votes to Expand Hate-Crime Protection
By David Stout, The New York Times, May 4, 2007
Washington, May 3 -- The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend hate-crime protection to people who are victimized because of their sexuality. But the most immediate effect may be to set up another veto showdown between Democrats and President Bush.
By 237 to 180, the House voted to cover crimes spurred by a victimís "gender, sexual orientation, gender identity" or disability under the hate-crime designation, which currently applies to people who are attacked because of their race, religion, color or national origin.
"The bill is passed," Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is gay, announced to applause, most of it from Democrats.
Companion legislation is moving through the Senate. But even assuming that a bill emerges from the full Congress, it will face a veto by President Bush on the grounds that it is "unnecessary and constitutionally questionable," the White House said. The vote to approve the bill did not come close to the two-thirds needed to override a veto.
The bill approved by the House, worded to cover people who are transsexual and transgender, would make it easier for federal authorities to take part in hate-crime investigations if local investigators are unable or unwilling to pursue them. The current hate-crime law protects people only while they are engaged in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school, but the bill would lower the barriers.
Debate over the legislation has been spirited, and while some of it has addressed whether the bill is necessary, the arguments in the House chamber and beyond have been colored by issues of conscience and personal morality.
"This is a historic day that moves all Americans closer to safety from the scourge of hate violence," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a major backer of the legislation.
Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in 1998, said in a statement, "I am personally grateful to the United States House for recognizing the grave reality of hate crimes in America."
Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said the House vote represented "a statement of what America is, a society that understands that we accept differences."
But Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio and the minority leader, said the bill made no sense: "Weíre going to put into place a federal law that says that not only will we punish you for the crime that you actually commit, the physical crime that you commit, but weíre also going to charge you with a crime if we think that you were thinking bad things about this person before you committed the crime."
And Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, called the bill "unnecessary and bad public policy." While he finds racism and sexism "abhorrent," Mr. Pence said, the billís language is so broad that it could encroach on free speech.
Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, disagreed and said the bill reaffirmed rights of free speech. Mr. Conyers, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sponsored the measure, along with Representative Mark Steven Kirk, Republican of Illinois.
James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told his radio listeners that the billís real purpose was "to muzzle people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality," according to The Associated Press.
But Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a supporter of the Senate legislation, said he was pleased that the House had rejected the Bush administrationís "misguided attempt" to block the bill. "Itís long past time for Congress to do more to prevent hate crimes and insist that they be fully prosecuted when they occur," Mr. Kennedy said.
The legislation restated punishments already enacted, up to life in prison for the most serious crimes.
The White House said the administration favored stiff penalties for violent crime, "including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion or national origin." But it asserted that the bill was redundant to state and local laws, and of dubious constitutionality. If it reaches the president, "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," the White House said.
Twenty-five Republicans joined 212 Democrats in voting for the bill. Fourteen Democrats joined 166 Republicans in opposing it.
Fair Use Statement: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.