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U.S. hate crime bills/laws - 2009

Bills H.R. 2647 & S. 909 became law.
Positive reactions to the law.

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Background (Repeated):

An earlier hate crime law (18 U.S.C. 245), was passed in 1969 in response to a hate crime motivated by racial hatred -- the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. For over 40 years, it has discouraged certain violent crimes motivated by hatred of the victim's race, color, religion and/or national origin.

The 2009 bill as passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama has:

bulletAdded gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability as protected classes. It would thus protect female, male, intersexual, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, transgender, transsexual, cis-gendered, disabled, and able-bodied persons. That is, it would protect every person in the U.S. in four new ways, in addition to the earlier four, making a total of eight-way protection.
 
bulletVastly increase the scope of the hate crime law to allow prosecution of violent hate crimes at locations in addition to post offices, public schools, voting booths, or other federal facilities. 1

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said: "This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim."

One difference, to which Senator Reid refers, is that a hate crime victim is typically a stranger to the perpetrator. Another is that the perpetrator's main goal is to attack an entire community of people to which the victim belongs. It is essentially a terrorist act which terrorizes many more people than the direct victim of the violent crime.

2009-SEP-23: Congress passed S. 909: hate crimes law:

After the House-Senate conference committee in September, H.R. 2647 & S. 909 were harmonized and the resultant version was returned to the House and Senate for a final vote. This was finalized on 2009-SEP-23 with a 68 to 29 vote in the Senate. As expected, the Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor and the Republicans voted overwhelmingly against the bill. Only time will tell which party is on the side of history. The bill had been passed by the House on OCT-08 by a vote of 281 to 146. It then went to President Obama for his signature. He had promised to sign the bill into law by the end of the month.

The bill is titled: "The Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. hate crimes act." It is named after:

bulletMatthew Shepard, a gay university student in Wyoming who was the victim of gay bashing and a crucifixion because of his sexual orientation, and
bulletJames Byrd Jr., a black man in Texas who was dragged to death behind a pickup trick. Both crimes occurred in 1998, the year in which the first hate-crimes legislation was proposed.

2009-OCT-28: President Obama signs bill into law:

President Obama kept his promise; he signed the bill into law on 2009-OCT-28. This is the first major federal civil rights legislation to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the signing of the bill in the White House, President Obama condemned violent crimes meant not to break only bones "but to break spirits." He said:

"Today, we have taken another step forward. This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. ... No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love. At root this is not just about our laws, but who we are as a people"

The president compared the hate crimes law with the landmark civil rights legislation that promoted racial equality. The latter was signed by ex-president Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Obama quoted Johnson's remark at the time:

"Through this law the bells of freedom ring out a little louder."

President Obama added:

"That is the promise of America, over the sound of hatred, chaos, over the din of grief and anger we can still hear those ideals." 8

Positive reaction to the passage of the bill:

bulletThe Matthew Shepard Foundation wrote:

"Matthew's parents Dennis and Judy Shepard have campaigned for the legislation's passage for more than a decade since their son's murder in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998 in an anti-gay hate crime. The Matthew Shepard Foundation applauds Congress and President Obama for their steady and successful efforts throughout 2009 to bring the legislation to this point. We eagerly anticipate its final enactment and wish to thank the countless organizations and individuals who have worked tirelessly for its passage." 2

bullet29 organizations issued a joint statement:
History in the Making:

It took much too long, more than a decade. And it came at too great a price: the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. are just two among the thousands of crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.

But this week, the president put pen to paper and fulfilled a campaign promise, the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, extending the federal hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation and gender identity along with race, religion, gender, national origin and disability. Our deepest hope and strong belief is that this new law will save lives. Now, lawmakers and the president have made an imperative statement to the country and the world: Our nation will no longer tolerate hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

We have worked long and hard for this and its passage is historic.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there are nearly 8,000 hate crime-related incidents annually, and more than 1,200 of those incidents involve violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And even more alarming, while the overall occurrence of hate crimes is declining nationally, hate crimes against LGBT people have been increasing. This year alone, we saw hate crimes trials in the brutal killings of two transgender women, Angie Zapata and Lateisha Green.

As a result of this legislation, if local jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Justice Department can now step in. And that's why the LGBT community never stopped working for this historic day.

This legislation not only has practical value, but is a symbol of our progress. It is the first time in the nation's history that Congress has passed explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We could not have reached this moment without the powerful support of our allies who stood with us every step of the way. We are deeply grateful to civil rights, civic, faith and disability rights groups, as well as law enforcement and district attorney organizations that worked side by side with the LGBT advocates. We are equally thankful to Congress, President Obama and members of his administration for passing and signing this bill into law.

While today we celebrate this marker of progress, we must recognize it as only one of the building blocks to full equality and demand that it be just a first step toward equal treatment under federal law in all areas of our lives. And we must focus on the next step.

The passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act provides us with an opportunity. We must use this moment to educate and keep the momentum going so that we can continue to make progress on the local, state and federal levels. Yes, legislation takes a long time - often years of work. Yet, our community is on the cusp of passing much-needed protections.

This week, we call upon lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, families and allies to take this opportunity of increased media and public attention on hate crimes to educate co-workers, classmates, neighbors, family members and friends about our lives, and about why we need not only their friendship and love, but their vocal support for a more just and equal America for LGBT people. If your members of Congress voted in support of hate crimes legislation, call them and thank them. Then ask them to be there for us again when the vote turns to workplace nondiscrimination, military service and partnership rights.

With your help and our collective pressure, equality is within reach.

When talking about the need for hate crimes legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "The time for debate is over."

She was right.

Just as the time has finally come for stronger hate crime protections, it is also time to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and ensure that health care, economic policy and immigration reform incorporate the needs of LGBT people.

The time for debate is over.

Signed by:

Jo Kenny, AFL-CIO Pride at Work
Terry Stone, Centerlink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Gabe Javier, Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA
Toni Broaddus, Equality Federation
Jennifer Chrisler, Family Equality Council
Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry
Lee Swislow, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Rebecca Allison, M.D., Gay & Lesbian Medical Association
Chuck Wolfe, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund
Eliza Byard, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Marjorie Hill, Gay Men's Health Crisis
Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign
Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality
Earl Fowlkes, International Federation of Black Prides
Kevin M. Cathcart, Lambda Legal
Leslie Calman, Mautner Project: The National Lesbian Health Organization
Sharon Lettman, National Black Justice Coalition
Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality
Justin Nelson, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Rea Carey, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Paul Kawata, National Minority AIDS Council
Kyle Bailey, National Stonewall Democrats
Greg Varnum, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Sharon Stapel, New York Anti-Violence Project
Jody Michael Huckaby, PFLAG National
Michael Adams, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
Aubrey Sarvis, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network 9

Many more positive reactions are covered in a separate essay

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Text etc. of the "Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act," GovTrack, at: http://www.govtrack.us/
  2. Charlie Butts, "Christians on high alert over hate crimes passage," OneNewsNow, 2009-OCT-24, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  3. Adelle M. Banks, "Faith leaders divided over passage of hate crimes bill," The Pew Forum, 2009-OCT-23, at: http://pewforum.org/
  4. "Congress extends hate crime protections to homosexuals," Associated Press, 2009-OCT-23, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  5. Haris Tarin, "Senate finalizes hate crime legislation," MPAC News, 2009-SEP-23, at: http://www.mpac.org/
  6. Jennifer Riley, "Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill; Obama Expected to Sign," Christian Post, 2009-OCT-23, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
  7. "US Senate Passes Expanded Hate Crimes Legislation," Equality Maryland EQMD E-News, 2009-OCT-23.
  8. "Obama signs expanded US hate crimes law," AFP, 2009-OCT-29, at: http://news.smh.com.au/
  9. Pam Spaulding, "Live: hate crimes bill signing -- reactions," Pam's House Blend, 2009-OCT-29, at: http://www.pamshouseblend.com/

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-AUG-23
Latest update: 2009-NOV-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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