Friday, October 9, 2009

House Votes to Expand Hate Crimes Definition

The measure was named in part for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student murdered in 1998.

The House voted Thursday to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation, a step that would extend new protection to lesbian, gay and transgender people.

Democrats hailed the vote of 281 to 146, which brought the measure to the brink of becoming law, as the culmination of a long push to curb violent expressions of bias like the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House Republican leader, voiced opposition to the measure.

Republicans criticized the legislation, saying violent attacks were already illegal regardless of motive. They said the measure was an effort to create a class of “thought crimes” whose prosecution would require ascribing motivation to the attacker.

Thought? Aren't all crimes that are outlawed as hate crimes the same? How does anybody know that a crime was perpetrated against a black person because the person is black and not another reason? Because the victim was black and the crime seems to have been committed precisely for that reason. Same with gays. Republicans, most, anyway, do not want to vote for anything connected with gay, to stay on the good side of the extreme right-wingers who demand such behavior.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, called the legislation radical social policy. “The idea that we’re going to pass a law that’s going to add further charges to someone based on what they may have been thinking, I think is wrong,” Mr. Boehner said.

Another enlightened view of Mr. Suntan.

Republicans were also furious that the measure was attached to an essential $681 billion military policy bill, and accused Democrats of legislative blackmail. Even some Republican members of the usually collegial House Armed Services Committee who helped write the broader legislation, which authorizes military pay, weapons programs and other necessities for the armed forces, opposed the bill in the end, solely because of the hate crimes provision.

“We believe this is a poison pill, poisonous enough that we refuse to be blackmailed into voting for a piece of social agenda that has no place in this bill,” said Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, a senior Republican member of the committee.

The military bill has yet to be approved by the Senate. But the hate crimes provision has solid support there, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the overall bill outweighed his own objections to including the hate crimes measure.

Mr. Obama supports the hate crimes provision, though the White House has raised objections to elements of the bill related to military acquisitions. If signed into law, the hate crimes legislation would reflect the ability of Democrats to enact difficult measures with their increased majorities in Congress and a Democrat in the White House.

“Elections have consequences,” Mr. McCain said.

McCain can speak clearly.

Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 House Republican, said the measure could inhibit freedom of speech and deter religious leaders from discussing their views on homosexuality for fear that those publicly expressed views might be linked to later assaults.

“It is just simply wrong,” Mr. Pence said, “to use a bill designed to support our troops to reverse the very freedoms for which they fight.”

Democrats, however, noted that the bill would specifically bar prosecution based on an individual’s expression of “racial, religious, political or other beliefs.” It also states that nothing in the measure should be “construed to diminish any rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Amazing how two sides can see the same thing so differently.

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