A gay-inclusive hate crimes bill
attached to a must-pass defense bill has dodged a presidential veto
threat and boosted its chances of passage after the Senate voted to
kill provisions for a major Air Force fighter jet program Tuesday.
The vote was a major victory for
President Obama, who had warned he'd veto the entire bill if it
included a provision to fund seven twin-engine F-22 Raptors at a cost
of $1.75 billion, the Washington Post reported.
Obama hailed the 58-40 vote: “At a
time when we're fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this
would have been an inexcusable waste of money.”
On a voice vote Thursday, senators
agreed to attach Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy's Matthew Shepard
Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the defense bill. The amendment adds
disability, gender and sexual orientation to the list of hate crime
protections. The law would also aid state and local governments
prosecute hate crimes.
The bill is named after the University
of Wyoming student who 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 near Laramie.
Obama found an unlikely ally in Senator
John McCain (R-Arizona). McCain, who has led Republican opposition
to the hate crimes bill, backed the president and the Pentagon in
opposing the fighter jet funding. The Arizona senator called the
hate crimes add-on an “abuse of power” on the Senate floor
This is not to suggest that Republicans
have softened their opposition to hate crimes legislation. On Monday
they managed to pass several amendments to the bill opposed by
One amendment requires that hate crimes
be identified and prosecuted based on “neutral and objective
criteria,” while another adds the death penalty to the legislation.
Another increases protections for U.S. military service members and
their families. A fourth amendment would limit hate crime
prosecutions in a state until its attorney general has established
standards for applying the death penalty.
In a statement, the Human Rights
Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest gay and lesbian rights advocate,
criticized the amendments, three of which were offered by Judiciary
Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama).
“We urge Congress to eliminate these
unwelcome amendments and send the Matthew Shepard Act to the
president's desk quickly,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said.