Just hours after
the White House issued a veto threat Thursday, the House
of Representatives voted to add crimes motivated by gender
Identity and sexual orientation to those covered by
federal hate-crimes law.
legislation, passed 237-180, also makes it easier for
federal law enforcement to take part in or assist
local prosecutions involving bias-motivated attacks.
Similar legislation is also moving through the Senate,
setting the stage for another veto showdown with President
''This is an
important vote of conscience, of a statement of what America
is, a society that understands that we accept differences,''
said House majority leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland
congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the only openly
gay man in the House, presided over the chamber as the
final vote was taken.
The vote came
after fierce lobbying from civil rights groups, who have
been pushing for years for added protections against hate
crimes, and social conservatives, who say the bill
threatens the right to express moral opposition to
homosexuality and singles out groups of citizens for
The White House,
in a statement warning of a veto, said state and local
criminal laws already cover the new crimes defined under the
bill and that there was ''no persuasive
demonstration of any need to federalize such a
potentially large range of violent crime enforcement.''
officials also noted that the bill leaves other classes of
people, such as the elderly, the military, and police
officers, without similar status.
justice system has been built on the ideal of equal
justice for all,'' said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, top
Republican on the Judiciary Committee. ''Under this
bill justice will no longer be equal, but depend on
the race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or status of
Republicans, in a
parliamentary move that would have effectively killed
the bill, tried to add seniors and the military to those
qualifying for hate-crimes protection. It was defeated
on a mainly party-line vote.
hate-crimes law covers acts of violence against
individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or
national origin. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction
only if the victim is engaged in a specific federally
protected activity such as voting.
The House bill
would extend the hate-crimes definition to include attacks
motivated by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or
disability and give federal authorities greater leeway
to participate in hate-crimes investigations. It
approves $10 million over the next two years to help
local law enforcement officials cover the cost of
investigators could step in if local authorities are
unwilling or unable to act. The Human Rights Campaign,
the country's largest gay rights group, said this
federal intervention could have made a difference in
the case of Brandon Teena, the young Nebraska transsexual
depicted in the movie Boys Don't Cry, who was
raped after two friends discovered he was biologically
female and then murdered when local police did not
arrest those responsible.
But James C.
Dobson, founder of the far right group Focus on the Family,
warned that the true intent of the bill was ''to muzzle
people of faith who dare to express their moral and
biblical concerns about homosexuality.'' If you read
the Bible in a certain way, he told his broadcast
listeners, ''you may be guilty of committing a 'thought
''It does not
impinge on public speech or writing in any way,'' countered
Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, pointing out that
the bill explicitly reaffirms First Amendment and free
Conyers said in a
statement that state and local authorities will
continue to prosecute the overwhelming majority of such
cases and the bill requires the attorney general or
another high-ranking Justice Department official to
approve any federal prosecutions.
restates already-enacted penalties. Those using guns to
commit crimes defined under the bill face prison terms of up
to 10 years. Crimes involving kidnapping or sexual
assault or resulting in death can bring life terms.
Committee cited FBI figures that there have been more than
113,000 hate crimes since 1991, including 7,163 in 1995. It
said that racially motivated bias accounted for 55% of
those incidents, religious bias for 17%, sexual
orientation bias for 14%, and ethnicity bias for 14%.
(Jim Abrams, AP)