Republican senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, who has opposed Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy's hate-crimes legislation in recent years, has surprised many by joining Kennedy in sponsoring a new proposal to pass the law. The proposal, supported by Democrats and several key Senate Republicans, would vastly expand the federal government's power to prosecute such crimes committed anywhere in the country, including those based on sexual orientation. In a dramatic reversal of his past position on the matter, Hatch has recently said that those lawmakers who oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected category "have got to grow up."
Kennedy-sponsored hate-crimes legislation has been introduced many times in the past but has always been defeated, usually through parliamentary procedures or in conference committees after passing the Senate. In recent years, Hatch, in his capacity as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has personally held up the legislation. Now he has joined Kennedy to support it, while making his own changes to the scope of the proposed law, changes he says might get the bill approved by the Senate before the end of the current session. If the bill were to face a vote on the floor by the full Senate, it would likely pass with support from at least eight Republicans, including Hatch and Sen. Gordon H. Smith of Oregon.