House panel OKs hate crimes bill
WASHINGTON (BP)--A House of Representatives committee April 25 approved a measure to add homosexuals and transgendered individuals to the classifications protected under hate crimes laws.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 20-14 for the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The vote was along party lines, with Democrats in the majority.
It is possible the full House could vote on the bill, H.R. 1592, as soon as the week of April 30 to May 4.
Current hate crimes law protects traits such as race, religion and national origin, but the bill's foes say the new legislation would grant protection based on lifestyle. 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, have been working to rally opposition to the measure. Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy, signed onto an April 24 letter with 53 others asking Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to oppose the legislation. The signers said the bill is "unnecessary, unjust, constitutionally suspect and opens the door for religiously based prosecutions."
Some critics of the proposal warn it could result in suppression of biblically based speech describing homosexual behavior as sinful.
Nineteen of 21 amendments proposed in the committee meeting were defeated, including one by Rep. Mike Pence, R.-Ind., to protect the religious freedom of individuals and groups.
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International and a signer of the letter, said the committee vote meant the country is "unfortunately one step closer to establishing unequal justice under the law in America."
Exodus is a ministry that seeks to help people out of homosexuality through the Gospel of Jesus. It had about 50 people working on Capitol Hill April 17 and 18 to explain its position to Senate and House members and their staffs.
"This legislations says that we, as former homosexuals, are of less value and worth less legal protection now than when we were living as homosexuals," Chambers said in a written statement. "We categorically reject this mindset and reaffirm every American's value and right to equal protection under the law."
Homosexual activist organizations, though, applauded the committee's action.
"Although there were many attempts to derail this legislation today in committee, our allies in Congress stood strong and secured its passage," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest homosexual activist group. "We are a long way from declaring victory, but we are as committed as ever to continuing to fight back the last desperate attempts by extremists and make sure this bill is realized."
The bill 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 HRC's website. 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.
The House and Senate both have passed versions of the bill 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.
The Senate bill, S. 1105, has the same title as the House version, 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., is the sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. John Conyers, D.-Mich., is the House sponsor.
Compiled by Tom Strode