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Hate-crimes measure dropped; set back for homosexual rights

WASHINGTON (BP)–The attempt to include homosexuality as a protected category under hate-crimes legislation appears dead for the time being.
A conference committee consisting of members of both houses of Congress removed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act from a spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments.
The amendment was added to the appropriations measure on a voice vote in the Senate in July. The version approved by the House of Representatives did not include the hate-crimes amendment. That difference, plus others, in the versions required negotiators from both houses to meet in conference to present a final bill for Senate and House approval.
The action by the conference committee was a setback for the homosexual rights movement. The Human Rights Campaign and other homosexual-rights organizations had made the expansion of the hate-crimes law to include homosexuality a legislative priority in this session of Congress. After the decision was announced, HRC said it still held out hopes of including the measure as an amendment to a spending bill.
The legislation would expand a 1969 hate-crimes law that bans the use of force or threat of force against a person “because of his race, color, religion or national origin.” The bill would add gender, disability and “sexual orientation,” which includes homosexuality, to the protected classes. The amendment also would remove the six “federally protected activities” that a person must be participating in before being considered a victim of a hate crime. Those activities include employment and public-school attendance.
Opponents of the legislation say its drawbacks include increasing the authority and scope of the federal government to intervene in local issues and curbing free speech — with a chilling effect on religious liberty by threatening those who teach homosexuality is a sin based on the Bible.
The conference-committee action, which was announced Oct. 18, “is a victory for those who do not believe that some crimes against human persons should be judged as worse than other crimes against human persons,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“All crimes committed against human persons should be dealt with justly, equitably and swiftly under the laws of the land. We should send every signal that we can that there is equal justice under the law in the United States and there are no groups or categories that are exempt from protection and likewise no groups or categories that deserve special protection. All Americans deserve the special protection of the law against criminals who would harm them or their families.”
Family Research Council spokesperson Janet Parshall commended Senate and House leaders, as well as committee leaders, for “refusing to validate a bad idea.”
“Hate-crimes laws are by nature unfair because they accord some victims more government protection under the law than others,” she said.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., is the chief sponsor of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Another hate-crimes amendment, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, as its prime sponsor, also was stripped from the bill. Hatch’s bill did not include “sexual orientation” as a new classification, but critics said it would have had a similar effect in states that provide for homosexual rights.
President Clinton first endorsed the inclusion of homosexuality in hate-crimes legislation in 1997 and has frequently promoted its adoption this year.
Twenty-two states have enacted legislation including “sexual orientation” in hate-crimes laws. Eight states have no hate-crimes law, and 20 states have hate-crimes laws that exclude “sexual orientation.”