Senate tied up with wrangling over Iraq War
Hopes the U.S. Senate might vote this week on extending hate crimes protections to LGBT people faded by Thursday afternoon, July 12, as partisan wrangling over Iraq War strategies and the Department of Defense reauthorization bill tied up lawmakers.
Brad Luna, director of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Thursday that while they had hoped to see a vote on the hate crimes bill as early as Wednesday, July 11, he and his colleagues now do not expect the vote to come before early next week.
The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act named for a young man killed in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming would expand existing federal hate crimes categories to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. Existing laws already include racial, ethnic and religious categories.
The Shepard act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in a 237-180 bipartisan vote on May 3. If it is passed by the Senate, it will be the first time that both houses of Congress have approved such a measure in the same session.
President Bush, however, has said he will veto the bill.
Bush has a long record of opposing hate crimes laws that include protections for LGBT people, dating back to his tenure as governor of Texas. During Bush’s first campaign for the White House, according to some gay rights activists, he strong-armed Republicans in the Texas Legislature into squashing the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, which included protections for lesbians and gays. He reportedly did not want to be forced into signing the measure and risking angering religious conservatives, or vetoing the bill and risking angering its many supporters.
Sens. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, filed the bill on Wednesday, July 11, as an amendment for consideration to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill being debated by the Senate this week. Supporters had hoped to see senators vote on the measure by the end of the day Thursday.
But, Luna said, debate over other details of the DOD bill, including issues surrounding the war in Iraq, had delayed the hate crimes bill.
“At this point, it looks like it will be sometime early next week before they vote on the hate crimes bill,” Luna said in a telephone call to Dallas Voice at about 2:30 p.m. CST on Thursday. “They [the senators] are almost through for today, and they will not meet tomorrow [Friday, July 13].”
Luna said senators will likely be debating the DOD reauthorization bill for most of next week, “but whenever there is a break in the debate over Iraq, we hope they will go ahead and vote then.”
The hate crimes bill has drawn vocal opposition from religious conservatives who claim the measure would criminalize their religious beliefs that homosexuality is sinful.
Several conservative religious groups protested outside the Capitol on Wednesday, July 11, calling on senators to defeat the bill.
Michael Marcavage said Wednesday that the hate crimes act could mean that pastors could be held liable for Bible-based teaching if someone hearing such a sermon were to then go out and “[do] something wrong.”
He said the measure would “penalize Christians for publicly declaring God’s word.”
Dr. Johnny M. Hunter, national director of Life Education and Resource Network (LEARN), told the Christian Post that the bill is “hatred and intolerance aimed and ministers and good Christian folk who dare call sin “‘sin.'”
Hunter added, “Pastors not only have a right, but they have an obligation to state emphatically that, according to Scripture, a man or a woman should not perform a sex act with a person of the same sex.”
Not all religious leaders oppose the hate crimes bill. The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said in a statement released this week that the bill “helps law enforcement protect vulnerable groups from hate-motivated violence, a goal that appeals to the moral foundations of all faith traditions.”
The Interfaith Alliance is a member of more than 30 religious organizations which released an open letter on Wednesday urging the Senate to pass the legislation. The letter, released through the Human Rights Campaign, was signed by 1,385 faith leaders representing a “broad spectrum of religious voices,” according to an HRC press release.
The letter said, “We would not support a bill that did not contain ample protections for free speech, including preaching and statements of religious belief. This law does not criminalize or impede upon religious expression in any way.”
Also supporting the measure are the Leadership Council on Civil Rights and the National Black Justice Coalition, both of which joined HRC in publishing a full-page ad in the Wednesday edition of Roll Call newspaper in Washington, D.C.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007