by Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON, D.C. –
The move to expand federal hate crimes laws to include protection for sexual orientation was set back when Senate Democratic leaders decided to remove it from the Department of Defense (DoD) authorization bill, on Dec. 6.
“We are deeply angered and disappointed by the decision to strip hate crimes provisions from the Defense authorization bill since we’d been assured by congressional leaders that attaching the provisions to the larger bill was the only way to avoid a presidential veto,” said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman.
He called on the Senate to pass the stand alone legislation already passed by the House, and “when the President vetoes the bill — as he has repeatedly promised to do — everyone will see just how subservient this administration is to America’s antigay industry. Force his hand, for goodness sake, rather than hiding us away.”
The House passed a stand alone hate crimes bill on May 3. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)introduced a parallel bill in the Senate, named in honor of Matthew Shepard, who was slain in 1998. He chose to attach it as an amendment to the DoD appropriations bill as the quickest way to move it forward on a crowded legislative calendar. The amendment passed the Senate 60-39 on Sept. 27.
White House spokesmen have called the amendment unnecessary and unrelated to the military bill, and have threatened a presidential veto.
A House-Senate conference to work out differences between the two versions of the appropriations measure decided to jettison the amendment. It had become clear that enough House Democrats opposed funding the war in Iraq, and enough Republicans opposed the hate crimes provision that the Senate version of the bill would not pass.
Matthew Shepard’s parents Judy and Dennis said, “We are truly dismayed to find that Congress now will put aside its leadership on passage of federal hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity..If not here, where? If not now, when?”
The Democratic congressional leadership decided to sacrifice the hate crimes measure most of their political base wants, in order to pass the military spending bill that much of their political base does not want.
“It is clear that attaching the language to the DoD authorization bill would not create a successful outcome in the House,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She is committed “to make certain that a hate crimes bill passes the Senate and goes to the President’s desk.”
Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese called the decision “deeply disappointing, especially given the historic passage of hate crimes legislation through both Houses of Congress this year. After more than ten years and several successful bipartisan votes, it is heartbreaking to fall short this close to the finish line.”
National Stonewall Democrats executive director Jon Hoadley said, “The Democratic Leadership, which guided this legislation to successful passage in their respective chambers, are now burdened with a moral obligation to see their work completed.”
“To have yet another important LGBT bill with wide support stripped at the last minute is really unconscionable,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.