Ex-gays build opposition to hate crimes bill

WASHINGTON (BP)--Congress has initiated a renewed attempt to expand hate crimes protections to homosexuals and transgendered individuals, and opponents have mounted a counter effort they realize will be difficult to sustain on Capitol Hill.

Bills to expand the categories protected under hate crimes laws to include homosexuality and other sexual identities have been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue April 17, and a full committee vote is expected soon, reportedly during the week of April 23-27.

While the current hate crimes law protects traits such as race, religion and national origin, the new legislation would grant protection based on lifestyle, say foes of the measure. They also say it would move federal law toward punishing thoughts and beliefs, since the motivation of a person charged with a hate crime would have to be evaluated.

Pro-family organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, already have been working to rally opposition to the measures. Exodus International, a ministry that seeks to help people out of homosexuality through the Gospel of Jesus, had about 50 people joining others April 17-18 to explain to Senate and House members and their staffs their opposition.

For Exodus President Alan Chambers, it is a matter of justice.

"[R]eally what we're saying is this legislation is unfair, because it means that I was more valuable as a homosexual than I am today as a former homosexual," Chambers told reporters before he began visiting on Capitol Hill April 17. "You know, this law would give special protection to those who are gay and lesbian, yet it doesn't give any protection to those who are children. That's saying that a gay man is more valuable than a child, is more valuable than a grandmother, is more valuable than the majority of Americans. That's just not fair."

The bill is "primarily being pushed by those in the homosexual activist community, really as a reinforcement that homosexuality is valid, that they need protection, and that's just not the case," said Chambers, who left homosexuality 15 years ago and has been married for more than nine years. "[Homosexuals are] protected as much as I am protected under the Fourteenth Amendment."

The House bill is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R 1592. Rep. John Conyers, D.-Mich., has 137 cosponsors for his bill. The Senate version, S. 1105, has the same title, except the name of Matthew Shepard has been attached to it. Shepard was the young homosexual who was beaten and left for dead tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., has 42 cosponsors for his proposal.

The House and Senate both have passed versions in separate sessions in the past, but they have yet to agree on a measure to send to the White House. It appears there are enough votes to gain passage in this Congress, especially since Democrats control both houses. The only apparent hope for preventing the legislation from becoming law is a veto by President Bush.

Opponents of new hate crimes legislation do not have a veto commitment from Bush yet, but they are seeking one, Chambers said.

Chambers said even some friends of Exodus in Congress are having a difficult time voting against the measure.

"They don't want to make it sound like they are voting for violence," he said.

"The tide is against us," Chambers said. "I believe that this is a great opportunity for us to share the truth ... about freedom, the truth about this bill and really to reinforce the fact that hate crimes legislation is unnecessary -- for one reason, the FBI uniform crime report has shown that bias-motivated crimes are on the decrease. Crimes against those who are gay, or who are perceived to be gay, have decreased over the last several years. So it seems like in a free and tolerant society where Americans are beginning to learn to treat their neighbor like they'd like to be treated, we're seeing a decrease in some of these crimes. And that's a good thing."

The bills would authorize the U.S. attorney general to provide assistance to state and local officials in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, as well as expand the categories to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," among others. The legislation says a hate crime is one "motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the state, local, or tribal hate crime laws."

"Sexual orientation" includes homosexuality. "Gender identity" is a "person's innate sense of gender," which may be different than his sex, according to the website of the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as the country's largest "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" political organization. Transgender is an umbrella term for "people who live all or substantial portions of their lives expressing an innate sense of gender other than their birth sex," according to HRC. The transgender category includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.


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