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Senate OKs hate-crimes bill; opponents remain hopeful

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate has quietly approved protection for homosexuality under hate-crimes legislation, but opponents of the measure expressed hope it still would be thwarted from becoming law.
Senators approved the Hate Crimes Protection Act late July 22 in a voice vote. The bill was passed on a single vote with numerous other amendments to the appropriations bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. The Senate also approved the spending bill.
The hate-crimes measure was not included in the spending bill the House of Representatives approved for the same departments, however. That means a conference committee consisting of members from both houses will have to work out a final version, probably after the month-long recess that ends Labor Day.
The conference committee’s negotiations hold hope for opponents of the hate-crimes proposal. Spokespersons for the Family Research Council and Traditional Values Coalition expressed varying degrees of confidence the hate-crimes language would be stripped from the final bill.
There was no way to prevent the hate-crimes amendment from being considered on the Senate floor, and it appeared it would be adopted if there were a recorded vote, a FRC spokeswoman said.
The hate-crimes bill had 37 cosponsors, and “supporters say they have the necessary votes to win,” TVC said in a memorandum before the vote.
The bill 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 violating the idea of equal protection under the law, increasing the authority and scope of the federal government to intervene in local issues and curbing free speech, including having a chilling effect on religious liberty by threatening those who teach homosexuality is a sin based on the Bible.
In April, President Clinton affirmed his 1997 endorsement of a similar bill. He also announced a public-private partnership to teach programs on tolerance, including of homosexuality, in the country’s middle schools.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the president’s effort “part of a larger strategy by the radical homosexual and lesbian movement.” Land said the effort would work against parents who teach their children homosexuality is unacceptable behavior but they should not hate homosexuals.
In another development, Missouri has become the 22nd state to include “sexual orientation” in a hate-crimes law. Gov. Mel Carnahan, a member of a Southern Baptist church, signed the law into effect July 1, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Missouri becomes only the fourth state to include “transgendered” people under the law, the NGLTF reported.
Carnahan is a member of First Baptist Church of Rolla, Mo.
Eight states have no hate-crimes law, and 20 states have hate-crimes laws that exclude “sexual orientation.”