The U.S. House of Representatives voted
Thursday in favor of adding disability, gender and sexual orientation
to the list of hate crime protections over Republican objections that
it was tucked inside a defense bill, The New York Times
The legislation 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 near
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat
from New York, hailed the bill's passage.
“It is remarkable that, at this late
date, hate crimes legislation should remain a controversial idea,”
Nadler said in a statement. “The idea that someone could be
singled out for a crime of violence due to his or her actual or
perceived race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity
or disability is simply repugnant.”
The bill defines hate crimes as those
motivated by prejudice against race, color, religion, national
origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
It would allow the Attorney General to assist cities and states in
the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Legislators passed
a similar bill in 2007, but the bill sank under the weight of a veto
threat from President George Bush. President Obama has urged
legislators to approve the measure.
The measure is well supported in the
Senate, where it's headed.
Republicans for the most part felt
imposed on by Democrats who had attached the hate crimes provision to
a must-pass defense authorization bill.
“We should not be doing social
engineering on this bill,” Indiana Representative Dan Burton said
on the floor, then chided Democrats with, “Shame on you.”
Representative Todd Akin of Missouri
called the hate crimes provisions “a poison pill” and said he
refused to be “blackmailed” into voting for it.
The debate's most contentious moments
have come from lawmakers who argue the measure would have a chilling
effect on free speech and restrict religious liberties, despite its
included First Amendment protections.
During an April debate on the bill,
Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, denied Matthew
Shepard died from a hate crime, calling his martyrdom a hoax.
“The bill was named after a very
unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but
we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery,”
Foxx said on the House floor. “It wasn't because he was gay. The
bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but
it's … really a hoax, that that continues to be used as an excuse
for passing these bills.”
Foxx later recanted a portion of her
comments, saying, “The term 'hoax' was a poor choice of words used
in the discussion of the hate crimes bill.”
Gay rights groups began lobbying for
the legislation in 2003. According to MAPLight.org, a website that
tracks political contributions, proponents gave nearly $4 million to
House members that approved the bill.
In the end, only 44 out of 131
Republicans supported the measure, while 15 Democrats opposed it.