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Congress drops hate crimes from military legislation

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress will not vote to expand hate crimes protections to homosexuals and transgendered individuals as part of a military authorization bill for next year, it was announced Dec. 6.

Supporters of the controversial legislation in the House of Representatives were so short of a majority if the Department of Defense authorization bill reached the floor with the hate crimes language included that they chose not to even have a vote. House leaders estimated the bill would have been about 40 votes short of passage, Congressional Quarterly reported.

The House had approved the hate crimes expansion in May as a stand-alone bill, and the Senate had passed it in September as part of the Defense measure. A conference committee of senators and representatives worked on a version to report to both chambers for passage, but Senate conferees chose to drop the hate crimes language when it became clear the House would not approve it.

The White House had indicated President Bush would veto the hate crimes expansion, even if it were part of the Defense legislation.

Current hate crimes law protects traits such as race, religion and national origin, but the bill’s opponents say the new legislation is unnecessary and would grant protection based on lifestyle. They also warn it would move federal law toward punishing thoughts and beliefs, since the motivation of a person charged with a hate crime would have to be evaluated. In addition, some critics warn it could lead to suppression of speech that describes homosexual behavior as sinful. Supporters of the bill, however, contend it would only cover violent criminal conduct.

“This is a big win for the cause of religious freedom and freedom of speech,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “For this victory, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the courageous members of the House who refused to bow to the pressure of political correctness and stood up for the constitutional principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

Sens. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., sponsor of the bill, and Carl Levin, D.-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in a Dec. 6 statement they were “deeply disappointed” the House chose not even to vote on a Defense bill that included the hate crimes language. “With this decision, we’ve lost the best opportunity to enact hate crimes legislation in this Congress,” they said.

Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., called the dropping of the hate crimes language a “great victory for our men and women in uniform.” In a written statement, Franks said the provision “would have politicized the defense bill during a time of armed conflict; and regardless of one’s opinion on this provision, using the Defense Authorization bill as [a] vehicle to debate it only placed the burden of this controversy on the backs of our troops.”

Not only were House conservatives prepared to vote against the Defense bill if it included the hate crimes expansion, but some liberals who supported the hate crimes language were committed to opposing the overall legislation because of its authorization of military spending, according to the Associated Press.

The ERLC and other pro-family organizations recently had urged Americans to ask members of Congress to oppose the Defense bill if it included the hate crimes expansion.

The language would have authorized the U.S. attorney general to provide assistance to state and local officials in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, as well as expand the categories covered by the law to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” among others. The legislation says a hate crime is one “motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the state, local, or tribal hate crime laws.”

“Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality. “Gender identity” is a “person’s innate sense of gender,” which may be different than his sex, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest homosexual rights advocacy organization. Transgender is an umbrella term for “people who live all or substantial portions of their lives expressing an innate sense of gender other than their birth sex,” according to HRC. The transgender category includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.

The Senate passed the hate crimes measure as an amendment to the Defense bill with a voice vote in September. Passage was a foregone conclusion after senators approved a cloture motion to end debate on the amendment. The vote was 60-39, giving backers exactly the number of votes required to bring the amendment to the floor for a vote on passage.

The House approved its version in May with a 237-180 roll call, 41 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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