Sponsor of measure to add sexual orientation language began
effort in 1999 because of several killings of gay men in state
MONTGOMERY, Ala. The state House voted Feb. 9 against changing Alabama’s hate crimes law to include offenses against people because of their sexual orientation.
On a procedural vote, the House lined up 40-37 against bringing the hate crimes bill up for consideration. The vote fell mostly along party lines, with Republicans opposing the bill, saying it would make an assault on certain people worse than an attack on others.
The procedural vote, requiring a three-fifths majority, is needed to bring a bill up for a vote before the education and General Fund budgets have been approved.
The Legislature passed a hate crimes law in 1994 that mandates longer minimum sentences for crimes committed because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, but does not include sexual orientation. Representative Alvin Holmes, a Democrat from Montgomery, has been trying since 1999 to expand the law to add sexual orientation because of several well-publicized killings of gay men.
Holmes said he believes lawmakers who voted against the bill are biased against gays and lesbians. “I think there are people against people because of sexual orientation, just like there are people against people because of race,” Holmes said.
A similar bill passed the House, but died in the Senate, in 1999, but Holmes said he felt his bill lost last week because lawmakers face re-election this year. Holmes said he may try to bring the bill up again later in the session. A similar bill has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The sponsor of that bill, Senator Hank Sanders, a Democrat, said he may wait until late in the session to try to pass his bill. He said it could be easier to pass later in the session when the procedural vote may no longer be necessary.
An opponent of expanding the hate crimes law, Representative Cam Ward, a Republican, said the opposition had nothing to do with bias against gays. “This bill is trying to create classes. We’re saying it should be more of a penalty to harm this class than another class. Why isn’t everybody just treated equally under the law?” Ward said.
Howard Bayless, board chair for Equality Alabama, a gay and lesbian rights advocacy group, expressed disappointment in the House vote. He said assaults against people because of sexual orientation occur almost daily. “They are happening in every community in our state and they are not getting reported,” Bayless said. “This law would be a sign that it’s not OK to harm gay people.”
Some Republicans said they would favor removing all hate crime laws from state law. “I disagree with all hate crime laws,” said Representative Jay Love, a Republican. “I don’t think we should apply extra rights to one group of people over another.”
Holmes said he and other black lawmakers saw the bill as a civil rights issue.”I have been to jail 27 times for fighting for my civil rights that were denied because of my race,” Holmes said. “A hate crime is when you commit a crime because you hate a group of people. It’s wrong to treat people like that.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 17, 2006.