Measure adding sexual orientation, gender identity lacks votes to pass
House-Senate conferees on Thursday, Dec. 6, confirmed that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed the Senate as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, will be removed from the final version of the bill.
The confirmation came after House Leadership determined there were not enough votes to pass the bill if it included the hate crimes provision. President Bush had said he would veto the DOD bill if it included the Matthew Shepard Act.
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn said Thursday he is pleased Congress is “moving forward with legislation to provide our military with the resources they need,” but also urged his colleagues in the Senate to “pass a stand-alone hate crimes bills, as the House did nearly seven months ago. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “‘The time is always right to do what is right.'”
Clyburn, an African-American representing South Carolina’s 6th District, added, “Hate crimes have been perpetrated for centuries. My brothers and sisters, my friends and neighbors and my colleagues marches on too many streets, sat-in at too many lunch counters and took the blows of too many batons and water cannons for this Congress to fail to pass this legislation with the ideals of justice and fairness that it embodies.”
The Matthew Shepard Act would give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias motivated violence by providing the department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The legislation would also provide the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias.
And it would make grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes.
LGBT rights activists on Thursday expressed disappointment, but said they were committed to continuing efforts to pass a hate crimes bill that includes protections for LGBT people in this congressional session.
Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of the gay man who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998 in Wyoming and after whom the act is named said Thursday they are “truly dismayed to find that Congress now will put aside its leadership on passage of federal hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“At this time of year that fills us all with hope for humankind, we are sad to find that a Congressional majority of each House who have already adopted the Matthew Shepard Act cannot yet come together,” the couple said in a written statement.
“If not here, where? If not now, when? Make no mistake, this is a small triumph of process over principle. We are dedicated to redoubling our efforts next year to achieve our vision of a hate-free America that truly includes everyone This has never simply been about Matthew Shepard and our family, this legislation is a gift delayed but never forgotten for all America’s families,” they said.
Jon Hoadley, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats released a statement Thursday calling Democrats in Congress to redouble their efforts to pass the Shepard act.
“The Democratic leadership, which guided this legislation to successful passage in their respective chambers, are now burdened with a moral obligation to see their work completed,” Hoadley said. “If the National Defense Authorization Act is not the appropriate vehicle for passage, then we encourage the Democratic Leadership to work with our community to find the most expedient way to place this legislation on the President’s desk within this Congress.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the “exhaustive efforts of Majority Leader Reid, Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Smith, Sen. Levin, Rep. Conyers, Rep. Kirk and other allies of equality on Capitol Hill” to pass the Matthew Shepard Act.
But, he said, the decision to remove it from the DOD authorization bill is “deeply disappointing, especially given the historic passage of hate crimes legislation through both Houses of Congress this year. After more than 10 years and several successful bipartisan votes, it is heartbreaking to fall short this close to the finish line.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 7, 2007