A Cautious Victory
The US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Thursday with a vote of 237 to 180. The bill will now be voted on in the Senate, under the title of the Matthew Shepherd Act -- no date on when a vote will take place has been set, however.
Hours prior to the House passing the act, the White House issued a statement saying that aides will advise the President to veto the bill if it gets as far as his desk. Their reasons being that such protections already exist on a state and local level and enacting a federal law would be overkill; both of which are downright lies (few states have hate crime prevention acts that cover sexual orientation; gender identity and expression; and disability). If Bush does indeed veto the bill (if the Senate votes to pass it), it will be his third veto ever since coming into power. His second occurred this past week when he vetoed a military spending bill that called for a withdrawal of troops out of Iraq in 2008.
The religious right has continued its vicious attack on the bill since its passage in the House on Thursday. Their biggest fear -- aside from giving GLBTQ people recognition as citizens -- is that the bill will infringe on their freedom of speech. The Traditional Values Coalition propose a scenario of a minister preaching against homosexuality could be prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Act, which is in fact, also a lie. The text of the bill spells out exactly what a "crime" is and makes clear that freedom of speech will not be affected.
The religious right also claims that GLBTQ people are not significant victims of hate crimes. In fact, the FBI reports that 14% of all hate crimes in 2005 were committed against people because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the FBI does not keep records of hate crimes committed against transgendered people, but this bill would rectify the oversight.
What especially saddens me is that every time this bill has been introduced since the 1980s, it aims to protect people on the basis of "sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability;" yet, because conservatives are so afraid of extending protections to queer individuals, disabled persons also lose out and continue to see crimes perpetrated against them go unpunished. And what is especially sad is that I have been hard pressed to find any conservative or liberal article make light of this fact. Everyone is so caught up in morality and justice that those who barely have a voice as it is are being overlooked entirely.
In the coming weeks, the Senate will most likely set a timetable to vote on the Matthew Shepherd Act. The religious right, however, has already vowed to put up a vicious fight, emboldened by President Bush's promise to veto any legislation that reaches his desk. We need to fight! Make a donation to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Write or email your Senator. Or, better yet, call your Senator directly and stress to him the importance of passing this legislation (The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121).
We have won a small and significant victory in the fight for equality, but we still have a long way to go.