House Passes Gay Hate Bill, White House Threatens Veto
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Posted: May 3, 2007 - 2:07 pm ET
(Washington) The House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act Thursday, just hours after the White House said aides would recommend President Bush veto the measure.
The House voted 237 to 180. A parallel bill is working its way through the Senate.
The Shepard Act, also called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would allow the Department of Justice to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting cases in which violence occurs against people based on their sexuality.
Federal hate crime legislation already covers people on the basis of race and religion.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) - the only openly gay man in the House - presided over the chamber as the final vote was taken.
"Today, we paid a sad but fitting tribute to victims of hate crimes like James Byrd, Matthew Shepherd and Michael Sandy," said Rep. Nadler (D-NY).
"No American should be threatened with violence because of who they are. Hate crimes attack not only the individual victim, but they send a violent message to an entire group of people. This hate crimes legislation takes critical steps to address violent bigotry and vicious acts of hatred. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to swiftly act to protect all Americans."
FBI statistics show that one in six hate crimes is motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.
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 in a statement following the vote.
"Today, legislators sided with the 73 percent of the American people who support the expansion of hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity."
But as the House was preparing to vote the White House issued a statement saying that if the measure passed both houses and goes to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it. (story)
A statement from the Executive Office of the President said: "The Administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, or national origin.
"However, the Administration believes that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable."
The White House statement said that state and local criminal laws already provide penalties for the crimes defined by the bill and "there has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement."
The veto threat was immediately denounced by gay Democrats.
"By issuing a premature veto threat, President Bush fails to understand that he is not the sole decider regarding the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act," said Jo Wyrick, NSD Executive Director.
"Once again, the majority of American oppose the position of the President, and that is why we are urging the Senate Leadership to quickly move on this important legislation. We need Senate Democrats to step up before President Bush can step down."
The statement came on the heels of intense lobbying by social conservatives for Bush to issue statement condemning the bill.
The American Family Association sent an alert to thousands of its members calling on them to email and phone the White House to call for a veto. (story)
"The Hate Crimes Act criminalizes a vast array of state and local acts and threatens religious leaders with criminal prosecution for their thoughts, beliefs, and statements," AFA claims - something supporters of the bill and LGBT civil rights groups dispute.
Concerned Women for America also is calling for a veto.
In a letter to the President the group says "there is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals or cross-dressers do not receive equal protection under the law."
A hate crime bill passed the House in the last Congress but was dropped in the then Republican-controlled Senate last year.
The legislation has the support of LGBT civil rights groups and has been endorsed by more than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including: the National Sheriffs' Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
For the first time, the ACLU fully supported hate crimes legislation.
In the past, the organization said it has not been able to support hate crime bills because they were written in a way that threatened constitutionally protected speech. But the legislation introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) showed that it is possible to protect targets of hate crimes without jeopardizing free speech or association rights, the ACLU said in a statement.
"Prosecuting violent hate crimes is critically important. This bill will also p