The House of Representatives is
expected to vote today on expanding federal hate crimes legislation
to include disability, gender and sexual orientation.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes
Prevention Act (HR1913) is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.
Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was killed in 1998
by two men he met in a gay bar. He was beaten and left to die
shackled to a post along a rural road.
The legislation would allow the
Attorney General to assist cities and states in the investigation and
prosecution of hate crimes.
Openly gay Massachusetts Representative
Barney Frank sponsored the bill in the House, while Massachusetts
Senator Ted Kennedy is backing the Senate version.
Passage in the House, where Democrats
far outnumber Republicans, appears all but certain. But Democrats
hold a narrower majority in the Senate, where passage may hinge on
the support of moderate Republicans.
Yesterday, President Obama issued a
statement urging lawmakers to pass the measure.
“I urge members on both sides of the
aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this
legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of
intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights
protections while also protecting our freedoms of speech and
association,” Obama said.
Obama's backing of the measure runs
counter to that of President Bush who had threatened to veto the
legislation should lawmakers approve it.
Opponents of the bill argue that the
measure would have a chilling effect on free speech and restrict
religious liberties, despite its included First Amendment
During a Judiciary Committee hearing on
the bill, Republican members attempted to amend the bill to extend
its provisions to senior citizens, veterans and even pregnant women.
Iowa Representative Steve King asked:
“Why are we valuing sexuality as more important than veteran status
or old age, for instance?”
“Their agenda is to shut down
preaching of faith from the pulpit,” King told One News Now.
“Their agenda is to force approval of the homosexual agenda. And
destroy marriage nationally is the follow-up piece of this.”
Passage of the federal hate crimes law
is a priority for groups that advocate for gay and lesbian rights.