Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

U.S. House Approves Matthew Shepard Act

HATECRIMES_REPX390Washington, DC – In a vote that marks the first major expansion of protection under the law in 40 years, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Matthew Shepard Act on Thursday.  The Shepard Act, attached as an amendment to a Defense Appropriations Bill, extends protection to LGBT people from bias-related physical violence.  A similar provision faced the threat of a veto from President Bush in a recent Congress, even though it passed the House by a comfortable majority.  This time around, President Obama has signaled his eagerness to sign the Shepard Amendment into law, as soon as it receives a favorable vote in the U.S. Senate.  That vote is expect soon.  Protections from hate violence for LGBT Americans have been opposed by congressional Republicans and their allies, usually on the pretext that the addition of the Shepard Act to a defense bill is inappropriate “social engineering,” a “poison pill,” and that the provisions of the Act would serve as a sort of Trojan Horse, making LGBT behaviors “normative.”  Some religious critics have argued that the Shepard Act would gag ministers and priests who oppose homosexuality on moral or doctrinal grounds, abrogating their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and to the free exercise of religion, making vocal opposition to LGBT behaviors criminal.  Proponents of the legislation counter that the language of the Shepard Act has been carefully crafted to criminalize only acts of physical violence, leaving all First Amendment rights fully intact.  The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and openly gay Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) hailed the passage of the Act in the House.  Pelosi said, “It’s a very exciting day for us here in the Capitol,” noting that attempts to pass such a law had gone on for her 22-year tenure in the House of Representatives.  Polis argued that critics of the Shepard Act seem not to understand the impact of anti-LGBT hate violence beyond the individual victims. “What makes these crimes so bad is they are not just crimes against individuals; they are crimes against entire communities,” he said during the debate on the defense bill.  The measure passed the House by a vote of 281 to 146.  237 Democrats and 44 Republicans voted in the affirmative. 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats opposed the bill. “We are closer than ever before to protecting Americans from hate violence thanks to today’s action by the House,” said Joe Solmonese, head of the Washington, D.C.-based LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign. “The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate crimes laws.”

October 9, 2009 Posted by | California, Colorado, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on U.S. House Approves Matthew Shepard Act

   

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