House Gives Final Approval To Hate Crimes Bill

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AHN

House Gives Final Approval To Hate Crimes Bill

by
Kris Alingod

Attached to the bill is a measure named after two murder victims: Matthew Shepard (left), a gay Wyoming university student who died in 1998 after being tortured, and James Byrd, Jr., a black man who was dragged to death by white supremacists the same year as Shepard's murder. (Image: familyequality.org)

Washington, D.C. (AHN) -
The House on Thursday gave its final approval to legislation expanding
federal hate crimes to include attacks on gays and transgenders. LGBT
advocates hailed the vote as a long-awaited victory, but the GOP
accused Democrats of "valuing some lives more than others," and of
"immorality" for tacking the measure to the 2010 Defense budget.

The
National Defense Authorization Act, or H.R. 2647, passed by a vote of
281-46. Forty-four Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Attached
to it is a measure named after two murder victims: Matthew Shepard, a
gay Wyoming university student who died in 1998 after being tortured,
and James Byrd, Jr., a black man who was dragged to death by white
supremacists the same year as Shepard's murder.

The attached
measure expands federal hate crimes to include attacks based on a
person's actual or perceived gender, gender identity or disability or
sexual orientation. The original 1969 law gives the federal government
the authority to pursue criminal investigations for crimes committed
because of a person's race, color, religion or national origin, and
only while the victim is engaging in federally-protected activity.

Democrats
and gay advocates had been pushing for expanding the law since 2007,
but had failed to do so with a Republican in the White House.

This
year, they had attempted to do so but came up short in the Senate in
April, after the House voted 249-175 to pass the stand-alone
hate-crimes bill. They later incorporated the measure in the 2010
defense budget, which now only needs the final approval of the Senate
before President Barack Obama signs it into law.

The House vote
comes before LGBT groups gather in D.C. on Sunday for a National
Equality March, and before the President keynotes the annual dinner on
Saturday of the nation's largest gay rights group, the Human Rights
Campaign.

"We are closer than ever before to protecting Americans
from hate violence thanks to today's action by the House," HRC
President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. "The day is within sight
when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from
updating our nation's hate crimes laws and giving local law enforcement
the tools they need to combat hate violence."

But House Minority
Leadership John Boehner (R-OH) called the bill "thought crimes'
legislation because it "places a higher value on some lives than
others."

"Democrats have done a great disservice to the brave men
and women of our Armed Forces today by using them as leverage to pass
radical social policy," Boehner added.

"Our military deserves the
resources provided in this legislation," Republican Study Committee
Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) also said. "Our troops deserve better than to
be treated as pack mules to carry the load for a despicable and
unconstitutional bill that penalizes thought and places a premium on
some classes of individuals over others."

"No American should be
more protected from violent crime than another," Price added. "All
violent crimes demonstrate hate and all should be fully prosecuted.
Justice should be blind, but Democrats have rejected the credo of our
Founders that all people are created equal."

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the bill "secur[es] our fundamental right to feel safe in our communities."

"This
nation was founded on the promise of pluralism, a commitment to
equality and opportunity, and the belief that 'liberty and justice for
all' is not simply an empty pledge - it rests at the core of our
identity as a people," Pelosi added. "No American should ever have to
suffer persecution or violence because of who they are, how they look,
or what they believe... We are standing with the families of Matthew
Shepard, James Byrd Jr., and countless other victims of hate crimes."

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