by Bob Roehr
The U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Act on Sept. 27. The legislation expands federal hate crimes laws to include violence based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability.
It provides new resources to local law enforcement officials to address these types of crimes, and allows for federal intervention when local officials do not fulfill their responsibilities in this area.
The measure had been tied up in a filibuster at the insistence of far right groups like the Family Research Council. They have become apoplectic in arguing that the legislation confers “special rights” on homosexuals, and have urged their members to contact Congress opposing it.
The filibuster was broken with a bipartisan 60 to 39 procedural vote, with 60 votes requires, with 9 Republicans joining all of the Democrats and 2 Independents. The legislation then passed on a voice vote as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill. Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) led the effort.
The House passed a parallel bill on May 3 by a 237 to 180 margin.
President George W. Bush, through a spokesman, has threatened to veto the legislation as unnecessary. It is unclear whether he was throwing a rhetorical bone to the social conservative base of the Republican Party or if he intends to follow through on that threat. There were insufficient votes in either chamber to override a veto.
“Today’s Senate vote sends a bold and unmistakable message that violent crimes committed in the name of hate must end,” said Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s parents. “The Matthew Shepard Act is an essential step to erasing hate in America and we are humbled that it bears our son’s name. It has been almost nine years since Matthew was taken from us. This bill is a fitting tribute to his memory and to all of those who have lost their lives to hate.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Joe Solmonese said, “Today, the US Senate has sent a clear message to every corner of our country that we will no longer turn a blind eye to anti-gay violence in America.”
“Congress has taken an historic step forward and moved our country closer to the realization that all Americans, including the GLBT community, are part of the fabric of our nation.” HRC has long pushed for the legislation. Solmonese urged President Bush to sign it.
“While transgender people still have many obstacles to overcome, we are overjoyed that the hard work of so many people is coming to fruition,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
National Stonewall Democrats executive director Jon Hoadley, praised the Senate’s action. “By passing this bill with comprehensive language, this legislation will provide law enforcement agencies with the tools needed to fully prosecute bias motivated crimes.”