Senate votes to extend hate crime protections to gays, lesbians
WASHINGTON - The Senate voted 65-33 Tuesday to give gays and
lesbians protection under the federal hate crime law, and officials
said a debate was likely next month on a far more controversial
measure to amend the Constitution with a ban on homosexual
Taken together, the developments signaled the full Senate is
moving onto politically charged terrain less than five months
before the fall elections, and came on a day that President Bush
renewed his opposition to gay marriages.
"Before you get to marriage, you've got to get over hate, and
today the Senate did," said Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, the
leading Republican advocate of hate crimes legislation that has
cleared the Senate three times in recent years but has yet to pass
"When someone is being stoned in the public square, we should
all come to their rescue, and that includes the federal
government," he added.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the leading Democratic
supporter of the bill, said hate crimes amount to "domestic
terrorism plain and simple, and it's unacceptable." He urged the
administration to swing behind the proposal.
Current law permits the federal government to assist local and
state authorities prosecuting limited types of crimes committed on
the basis of the victim's race, religion or ethnic background. The
legislation approved in the Senate would broaden it on two counts,
allowing federal involvement in many more types of crimes, and
adding sexual orientation, gender and disability to the list of
The provision was attached to a $422 billion defense bill that
is making its way toward passage.
While previous efforts to approve stand-alone hate crimes bills
have failed, Smith and Kennedy prevailed in two earlier attempts to
attach the proposal to other legislation.
Both times, though, in 1999 and 2001, the hate crimes provisions
were jettisoned during final House-Senate negotiations, in part at
the insistence of House conservatives. Smith indicated he wouldn't
be surprised if that happened again. "I've not been told it will be
stripped out," he said. "There's no guarantee it won't be, and
there's a real possibility it will be."
Forty-seven Democrats were joined by 18 Republicans in voting
for the proposal. All 33 votes in opposition came from
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan declined to say what
Bush's position is.
"The president believes anyone who commits a violent act should
receive swift and sure punishment, and that all violent crime is
hate crime," she said. "The president believes all individuals
should be treated fairly and equally under the law."
While hate crimes legislation has been a perennial issue in
Congress in recent years, the drive to amend the constitution to
ban gay marriages is a relatively new effort.
The Human Rights Campaign, an organization that supports gay
rights, issued a statement during the day saying it had learned the
measure would be brought to the Senate floor for a debate in the
second week of July. Several GOP officials who spoke on condition
of anonymity confirmed that timetable was likely.
Bush urged Congress earlier this year to approve an amendment,
and Republican officials said the White House had recently been
lobbying for a vote on it.
"The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human
institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every
religious faith," Bush told the Southern Baptist Convention meeting
in Indianapolis. "And government, by strengthening and protecting
marriage, serves the interests of all," said the president, who
spoke to the group by satellite.
Some Republican strategists contend the issue could present a
difficult political choice to Democrats, who could be pulled in one
direction by polls showing that a majority of voters oppose gay
marriage, and pulled in the other by homosexuals voters and social
liberals who support it.
At the same time, GOP strategists say Republicans must avoid
appearing intolerant on the issue, for fear of offending moderate
Republican and independent voters.
While the hate crimes provisions cleared the Senate with ease,
Republicans and Democrats alike say the proposed constitutional
amendment appears to be well short of the two-thirds majority it
will need to prevail. In part, that reflects strong opposition
among Democrats as well as a lack of unity among Republicans. Some
GOP senators favor a measure that also bans civil unions, while
others want a decision to be left to the states.
Smith, a second-term lawmaker, is one of the Republicans that
GOP leaders will have to win over if they are to approach the
two-thirds majority they need. He favors an amendment that is
silent on the issue of civil unions, but sidestepped the issue when
asked how he would vote on a proposal that bans them. "I would want
to see the language before I sign off," he said.
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