House moves to add gays to hate crime laws
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.