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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 11, 2007

Hate crime bill passes House; Bush veto promised

Washington, D.C.--As openly gay Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts presided over the chamber, the House of Representatives passed a measure to add lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people to the federal hate crime law.

The bill includes crimes committed because of the victim’s disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. It makes these offenses eligible for the same federal response and added penalties as those in the existing 1969 law, which includes race, religion, color and national origin.

FBI statistics show that one in six hate crimes is motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, either real or perceived.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act  passed the House by a vote of 237 to 180 on May 3.

The Senate will consider an identical bill later this year that is named after Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming student beaten and left to die in 1998. The two bills are the top legislative priority of the Human Rights Campaign.

Versions of the bill have been in Congress since 1996, when the Justice Department first proposed it in the Senate. Its first sponsors were Democrat Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Republican Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas. Until this vote, it had never passed either chamber.

“This is a historic day that moves all Americans closer to safety from the scourge of hate violence,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today, legislators sided with the 73 percent of the American people who support the expansion of hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”

However, a pall was thrown over the celebration when the White House immediately announced that President Bush would veto it, although it has the support of law enforcement professionals.

Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, who is the Senate co-sponsor with Kennedy, issued an immediate one sentence response in defiance of Bush: “We will pursue every possible option to turn Matthew Shepard’s legislation into a law.”

The White House did not respond to requests from the Chronicle for comment, but it is likely that they are responding to the anti-gay establishment, which vigorously fought the law’s passage.

Sensing the political reality of Democrats in control of the agenda and the measure’s strong bipartisan support, the opposition launched a campaign of deception against the bill that topped some of their efforts against marriage equality.

HRC waged a counter campaign that ultimately held sway among legislators.

“Every day they rolled out a new outrageous charge,” said HRC president Joe Solmonese, “including that ministers who spoke against homosexuality would be arrested if this bill passed.”

HRC’s strategy included targeting House members who were considered persuadable. Rep. Deborah Pryce of Columbus was an HRC target in Ohio. She voted for the bill, the only Ohio Republican to do so.

The anti-gay strategy included flooding conservative talk radio with false claims that the measure “criminalizes thought,” ends Christians’ First Amendment protection, and would even end conservative talk radio.

A White House spokesperson cited “concern” with these things, without further elaboration, as the reason for the imminent veto.

Among Ohio’s House delegation, Pryce joined all the Democrats, Charlie Wilson, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Betty Sutton, Tim Ryan and Zack Space in voting for the bill.

The rest of the Republicans, Steve Chabot, Jean Schmidt, Mike Turner, Jim Jordan, Paul Gillmor, David Hobson, John Boehner, Pat Tibieri, Steve LaTourette and Ralph Regula, voted against it.

In the Senate, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown is one of 44 co-sponsors of the measure.



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