House moves to add gays to hate crime laws

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Eric Pfeif­fer

The House on May 3 voted to ex­pand fed­eral hate crime laws to pro­hibit vi­o­lent acts against ho­mo­sex­u­als and trans­gen­der peo­ple, ig­nor­ing a veto threat is­sued by the White House.

The mea­sure, which passed 237189, calls for the Jus­tice De­part­ment to in­ves­ti­gate phys­i­cal at­tacks ini­ti­ated be­cause of a per­son’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity — as it al­ready does for vi­o­lence trig­gered by race, re­li­gion and na­tional iden­tity.

“Hate crimes tear at the very fab­ric of our democ­racy — that all cit­i­zens are cre­ated equal and are af­forded the same free­doms and pro­tec­tions un­der the law,” said Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Mary­land Demo­crat.

“This leg­is­la­tion sends a strong mes­sage that hate-based vi­o­lence to­ward our fel­low cit­i­zens will not be tol­er­ated in our so­ci­ety.”

Twenty-five Repub­li­cans joined 212 Democrats to pass the bill. A sim­i­lar mea­sure is mov­ing in the Se­nate, where it died last year af­ter clear­ing the House.

Hours be­fore the vote, the White House ex­pressed its op­po­si­tion to the bill, call­ing it “un­nec­es­sary and con­sti­tu­tion­ally ques­tion­able.”

House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner said the leg­is­la­tion gives the gov­ern­ment the abil­ity to pun­ish for “thought crimes” and is re­dun­dant to ex­ist­ing laws.

“This bill would elim­i­nate any con­cept of ‘equal jus­tice’ un­der the law, di­vid­ing Amer­i­cans into dif­fer­ent classes of peo­ple sub­ject to dif­fer­ent pro­tec­tions un­der the law,” the Ohio Repub­li­can said.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment and FBI cur­rently de­scribe a hate crime as “any crim­i­nal of­fense com­mit­ted against a per­son, prop­erty or so­ci­ety that is mo­ti­vated, in whole or in part, by the of­fender’s bias against a race, re­li­gion, dis­abil­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or eth­nic­ity/na­tional ori­gin.”

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the ac­tion is sup­ported by nearly 230 civil rights, ed­u­ca­tion and civic or­ga­ni­za­tions, 30 state at­tor­ney gen­er­als and prom­i­nent law-en­force­ment groups, in­clud­ing the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice.

“This leg­is­la­tion will help pre­vent bias-mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence based on re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity, na­tional ori­gin or dis­abil­ity, while re­spect­ing the First Amend­ment rights of free speech and re­li­gious ex­pres­sion,” the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat said.

The leg­is­la­tion, how­ever, has gen­er­ated op­po­si­tion among clergy, who say it makes them vul­ner­a­ble to fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tion for speak­ing out against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity or same-sex “mar­riage.”

“What we have here is an ef­fort to si­lence peo­ple,” said Bishop Harry Jack­son, chair­man of the High Im­pact Lead­er­ship Coali­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion op­posed to the bill. “We ex­pect the pres­i­dent of the United States to veto this leg­is­la­tion.”

Bishop Jack­son led a press con­fer­ence on Capi­tolHil­lMay 3 that in­cluded high-profile lead­er­s­fromthe evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Tony Perkins.

Rep. John Cony­ers Jr., who au­thored the bill, said it does not re­strict free speech.

“There are no First Amend­ment dis­abil­i­ties about this mea­sure in any way,” the Michi­gan Demo­crat said.

The Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee, the largest cau­cus within the House Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence, sent a let­ter to Mr. Bush yes­ter­day ask­ing him to veto the leg­is­la­tion.

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