Hate Crimes Bill Again Sparks Sharp Debate

Posted October 6, 2009 at 7:08pm

A House Republican effort to stop hate crimes legislation from being attached to a Defense authorization bill sparked a passionate partisan debate on the floor Tuesday night, with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) calling the measure a “social attack on what used to be the morals of America.—Republicans argued that the measure is unconstitutional and should not be attached to the Defense bill. The provisions expand the definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or mental or physical disabilities. Gohmert said the murders of Matthew Shepard, a gay man, and James Byrd, an African-American who was dragged behind a truck, were horrible crimes regardless of why they were committed. “It would be fine if we passed a bill [that said] if you do what was done to James Byrd, then the victim’s family gets to choose the vehicle and the rope by which they are going to drag the defendant to his death, but this doesn’t do that,— Gohmert said. House Republicans sought to pass a nonbinding motion telling the conferees on the 2010 Defense authorization bill to exclude the hate crimes measure, which was attached to the bill in the Senate.The motion is intended to allow Republicans to say they support funding defense-related projects even if they vote against the bill if it comes back with the hate crimes measure attached, GOP aides said. Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) accused Republicans of opposing the legislation simply because they did not believe gay, lesbian and transgender individuals deserved protection from hate crimes. “The objection is not to the Senate adding an unrelated bill because Republicans have voted for that time and time and time again,— Frank said. “It is an objection to protecting against hate crimes, people who are gay, bisexual or transgender.— Frank also noted that the hate crimes bill already passed the House on a 249-175 vote in April with 18 Republicans voting in favor. And while Republicans complained that Democrats were adding an unrelated measure to the Defense bill, Frank noted they did not object when Republicans added an amendment allowing people to bring guns into national parks to a bill regulating credit cards.The GOP strategy is similar to one applied last spring when Republican leaders pushed members to oppose the war supplemental because of the inclusion of funding for the International Monetary Fund. The motion to remove the hate crimes language failed on a vote of 178-234, though 22 Democrats voted with Republicans to instruct conferees to oppose the provisions.