The US House of Representatives today voted in favor of legislation containing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends the definition of violent hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
The original bill, H.R. 1913, passed the House on April 29th of this year, mostly along partisan lines. The Senate attached its version of the Hate Crimes Bill to the Defense Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 2467), and after the bill passed the Senate, the language was maintained by the House/Senate Conference Committee. Today, the Defense Authorization Act conference report passed on a vote that broke largely on partisan lines, 281 to 146.
In response to Republican House members who argued against the Hate Crimes provision, Congressman Frank stated earlier this week:
"It is clear that there is an animus against those of us who are gay or lesbian, against people who are transgender, on the part of many in the House, and they are reflecting a strong political sentiment in the country. They are entitled to it. I do not lament the loss of their friendship and affection; I can live without it. But it should not lead them to deny protection to vulnerable people, and we are talking here about crimes, not just murder, but about assault and destruction of property which are too often ignored."
Under current law, the Hate Crimes protections cover violent crimes perpetrated because of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin. The new legislation would include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, and would effectively cover transgender individuals.
The Hate Crimes provision in the legislation passed today will allow the federal government to assist local and state law enforcement authorities, which prosecute the overwhelming majority of Hate Crimes cases. It permits the federal government to share resources and enforcement tools. It also authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to make grants to state and local law enforcement authorities which have incurred especially high expenses in connection with the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
Critics of the legislation have claimed that it infringes on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, which it does not. They have also said that it would allow people to be prosecuted for their thoughts about any of the groups covered. This is completely false -- the legislation pertains only to violent crimes.
Congressman Frank has been one of the strongest supporters of Hate Crimes legislation. He defended the bill vociferously on the House floor when it was debated last spring. Frank defended it again this week in a heated debate with House Republicans.
The Hate Crimes legislation is the first major bill in what Congressman Frank sees an essential, step-by-step strategy to passing LGBT legislation. Earlier this summer, he introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend workforce protections to LGBT individuals. He strongly supports Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin's legislation (H.R. 2517) to extend certain benefits to domestic employees of federal employees. After these bills are considered by the House, Frank plans to take on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which will require a concerted political effort, as well as the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Congressman Frank has differed with some activists who want to tackle the more difficult legislation first; he argues that failure to pass what legislators in conservative districts consider to be controversial bills would weaken efforts to pass fundamental legislation, like Hate Crimes and ENDA, which would otherwise widespread support. He also believes that passing Hate Crimes and ENDA will build political momentum for the repeal of DADT and DOMA.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including law enforcement, LGBT rights, civil rights, religious, women's advocacy and disability organizations. These include the National Sheriffs' Association, Police Executive Research Forum, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Foundation, National District Attorneys Association, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Anti-Defamation League, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Association of People with Disabilities, People for the American Way, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ -- Justice and Witness Ministries, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Conference, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Association of University Women.