House Republicans Refuse to Expand 'Hate Crime' Law

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - House Republicans have infuriated homosexual advocacy groups -- as well as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- by killing a measure that would have expanded "hate crimes" law to include crimes against homosexuals.

The measure, which the Senate attached to a defense authorization bill earlier this year, died Thursday in a House-Senate conference committee. Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) sponsored the measure.

Current federal hate-crime law covers violent crimes motivated by a person's race, religion or national origin. The measure killed Thursday would have expanded existing law to include violent crimes motivated by a person's real or perceived sexual orientation, gender and disability.

Hate crime law allows federal investigation and prosecution of violent crimes that otherwise would be handled at the state and local level.

But critics, mostly Republicans, say "hate crime" laws punish thought as well as actions. They say criminals should be prosecuted for breaking the law, regardless of what they were thinking when they did it.

One conservative group says hate crime laws aren't about justice-- they are about favoritism and special rights. Under the proposal killed Thursday, mugging someone's grandmother would not be prosecuted as vigorously as mugging a homosexual, Concerned Women for America has argued.

Sen. Kennedy blamed the Bush White House and House Republican leaders for stripping the hate crimes provision from the Defense Authorization Act.

"The hate crimes provision is an essential response to a serious problem which continues to plague the nation," Kennedy said in a statement.

"Since the September 11th attacks, we've had a shameful increase in the number of hate crimes committed in our country against Arabs and Muslims -- murders, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, shootings, and other assaults." Under current law, he said, the Justice Department "has to fight these vicious crimes with one hand tied behind its back."

Kennedy suggested that President Bush is "worried about his right-wing base" in the coming election: "The implication is obvious that the White House sent word to its Republican allies in the House -- block the hate crimes provision, even if blocking it denies the clear will of the majority."

Kennedy called it "heartening" to know that Sen. John F. Kerry may soon be president - and he said Kerry would sign the kinds of hate crimes measure that Republicans rejected.

"We will be back again and again, and we will continue to bring this legislation up every opportunity we can until it is signed into law," Kennedy said.

The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's largest homosexual advocacy groups, also blasted the House Republican leaders for killing a measure that had "broad bipartisan support."

"It's just five days away from the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death and another year will go by without adequate hate crimes protections. That's shameful," said HRC President Cheryl Jacques.

"Even worse are the political motives behind it. Instead of promoting hate crimes protections, the president is promoting discrimination. Voters will remember that on Nov. 2."

See Earlier Stories:
Senate Adds Sexual Orientation, Gender to Hate Crime Law (June 16, 2004)
Kennedy, Liberal Republicans Urge Protection for Homosexuals (May 5, 2003)

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