House approves hate crimes legislation

By |2009-05-07T09:00:00-04:00May 7th, 2009|News|

by Bob Roehr

The U.S. House of Representatives passed hate crimes legislation on April 29. The tally of 249 to 175 was a modest increase over the 237 to 180 vote on the same legislation in May 2007.
Officially known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913), the legislation would add protection for actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to existing protected categories such as religion, race and ethnicity. Most law enforcement and civil rights groups support it.
The bill gives the federal government authority to provide resources and training to state and local officials on these matters. It also lets them directly intervene in limited circumstances where those state and local officials are not adequately performing their jobs.
The day before the vote the White House issued a brief statement from President Barack Obama urging “members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association.”
“Hate crimes are a scourge on our communities and it’s time we give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this serious problem,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said after the outcome was announced. “All Americans are one step closer to protection from hate violence thanks to today’s vote.”
“No one should face violence simply because of who they are,” said Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard who was murdered ten years ago, and executive director of the foundation bearing his name.
“This bill is a critical step to erasing the hate that has devastated far too many families.”
The measure now goes to the Senate where a timeline for consideration is uncertain.

Analysis

While gay rights advocates applauded the outcome, they also had cause for concern from analysis of the vote and their implications for the future.
One assumption has been that increasing Democratic margins in Congress would translate into stronger support for pro-gay legislation. While the total “yeas” did edge up from 237 to 249 over the two years between consideration, that did not match the net Democratic gain of 21 seats in the House in the 2008 election.
Republican opposition dropped from 166 to 158; at the same time their support dropped at an even greater rate, from 25 to 18. The later was due to retirement and defeat of moderates.
Democratic opposition to the legislation came almost exclusively from the southern U.S.; 14 of the 17 “nay” votes. Five of those were freshman representatives. It is difficult to find a white Democratic Representative from the South who voted for the bill. It appears that on gay issues, a combination of race and region trump party affiliation.
A breakdown of the votes shows that much of the Democrats gains are coming at the expense of moderate Republicans, with little net gain for the gay community.
That is likely to become even more apparent as Congress moves beyond “pro-gay” legislation such as hate crimes, which is a relatively easy vote, to increasingly controversial issues such as employment protection, the military and ultimately marriage.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.