President Obama has yet to comment on
passage of a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill.
On Thursday, senators voted 68 to 29 in
favor of expanding hate crimes legislation to include sexual
orientation and gender identity. The bill was tucked inside a
must-pass defense bill, a move that rankled some Republicans.
While Obama has pledged to sign the
legislation, he has yet to speak on the Senate's actions. Plenty of
senators, however, had something to say on the subject.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat
from California, called the legislation a “victory.”
“[The bill] will go a long way in
deterring crimes against victims targeted solely because of who they
are – because of their race, national origin, disability, gender,
religion or sexual orientation,” she said in a statement.
In urging lawmakers to support the
measure most senators mentioned Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming student
killed by two men because he was gay and whose 1998 murder prompted
advocates to call for the bill. But Colorado Senator Michael Bennet
spoke of a more recent hate crime that occurred in his home state.
In April, a Colorado jury put away the
man who killed Angie Zapata, an 18-year-old transgender woman.
Zapata was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher by a man she met
on the Internet after he discovered she was a biological man.
“The jury's verdict marked Colorado's
first-ever conviction for a hate crime against a transgendered
person,” Bennet said on the Senate floor Thursday. “This crime
was heinous and the attacker will rightfully serve his time because
of the laws in my state. Our experience in Colorado, which already
has strong hate crimes laws on the books, serves as an example of how
to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of where
“With this bipartisan passage of the
Defense Authorization Conference Report today, we will have taken
another substantial step forward for our values as Americans,” he
Senators Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and
Arlen Specter praised passage of the bill on Friday at a joint
conference also attended by Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe
Solmonese and various other civil rights groups. HRC is the nation's
largest advocate for gay rights.
“We're in the home stretch,”
Solmonese said. “This critical piece of legislation is on its way
to the President's desk for his signature. We look forward to
President Obama signing it into law; our nation's first major piece
of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
But on the Senate floor Thursday, most
Republicans railed against the measure.
“It is very cynical that this bill
that funds our soldiers, who are fighting for our Constitution and
our country, actually undermines the very principles that they are
fighting for,” South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said.
“Strictly as a matter of justice, the
hate crimes provision in this report is offensive. It suggests that
violence committed against certain kinds of victims is worse, more in
need of federal intervention and swift justice.”
“This provision will also move our
nation a dangerous step closer to another Orwellian concept:
“The problem, of course, is that
politicians are claiming the power to decide which thoughts are
criminal and which are not,” he added.
President Obama has spoken at length on
the hate crimes bill, pledging at every turn that he's a strong
advocate of the legislation.