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Senate adds sexual orientation, gender identity to federal hate crimes law by passing Matthew Shepard Act

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

matthewIn a groundbreaking vote, the Senate on Thursday added sexual orientation to U.S. hate-crime law, which would give the Justice Department the power to prosecute bias-motivated crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- tacked on to the federal Defense Department budget -- passed the Senate on a 68-29 vote. Florida’s delegation split: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted for the bill; Republican Sen. George Lemiuex voted against.

The House passed the budget with the same provision on Oct. 8. Now it will be sent to President Barack Obama, who has repeatedly pledged to sign the revised hate crimes law.

Florida, which already has a hate-crime law that includes sexual orientation, coincidentally released its annual hate crimes report on Thursday, showing 182 bias attacks in 2008  a small drop from the previous year.

“Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes,'' said Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board. “Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives
honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.''

In October 1998, the killing of Judy and Dennis Shepard's 21-year-old son, Matthew, galvanized activists around the globe. He became a symbol of violence against gays when two young men picked him up in a Wyoming bar and drove him to a remote part of Laramie. They pistol whipped him, tortured him and tied him to a fence like a scarecrow. Then they left him to die.

The same year, three white men in Jasper, Texas, murdered James Byrd Jr., 49, an African American. Byrd was beaten, stripped, chained by the ankles to a pickup truck and dragged three miles to his death.

Although Florida and many other states already have hate-crime laws encompassing sexual orientation, the new law allows federal prosecution  which for the first time would provide a means for criminal action in states without such a law.

Under the legislation, federal prosecutors could step in to try violent hate-crime cases if local authorities won't. It also allows federal funding for law enforcement to handle the cost of investigation and judicial proceedings, and would make grants available for training and prevention programs at the local level.

Many conservatives fought the bill.

“In a slap to the face of our servicemen and women, they attached hate crimes' legislation to the final defense bill, forcing Congress to choose between expanding hate crimes or making our military go without,'' said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "This hate crimes provision is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality.''

Gay activists across the nation quickly hailed passage of the hate crimes law, originally introduced by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

“Today’s vote marks a milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans,'' said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund. “The hate crimes bill now shifts to the president. With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era  one in which hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated. Our country will finally take an unequivocal stand against the bigotry that too often leads to violence against LGBT people, simply for being who they are.''

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called the law "our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.''

Last year in Florida, police agencies reported 182 hate crimes on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, and advanced age. That's about 6 percent fewer than in 2007. Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties had the most such crimes, according to the attorney general's annual Hate Crimes Report.

Crimes based on race, which accounted for 71 percent of Florida hate crimes a decade ago, now account for 47 percent. Religion and sexual orientation each now account for about 20 percent.

“It's not a huge increase when you look at the numbers,'' said David Barkey, southern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. The reported 38 hate crimes with religious motivation last year was an increase of 10 from the previous year.

“I would be hesitant to attribute it to a increase in bias,'' Barkey said, because the report does not break down incidents by specific religions.

Sexual orientation as a motivation increased from 28 in 2007 to 35 in 2008.

Broward reported 25 hate crimes, the most of any county, up from 17 in 2007 and down from 50 in 2006. With its large gay population, Broward reported 9 crimes based on sexual orientation, 10 on race and and 6 on religion.

It's impossible "to pinpoint exactly'' why the numbers fluctuate, said Broward Sheriff's Cmdr. Richard Wierzbicki, in charge of BSO's hate crimes/anti-bias task force, which began in Sept. 2008. "One thing we stressed this year was for people to report crimes and not to feel intimidated.''

Herald staff writer Jaweed Kaleem contributed to this report.

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This is BULL! So now if I get in a FIGHT or DISPUTE with someone who has an abstract life choice, I get a felony. Yeah, you totally can't get framed for this one. Just because a few people who discriminate took their hate too far we change the lower and give the power of being called "Victims" to all gays involved in violent crimes. "Hate," is an emotion. You can't punish someone for having an emotion (which is what this law does AND assumes) and much less you can't PROVE IT. Way to go, Dems.

Finally.

Time for a revolution. You cannot legislate immorality or morality. Elected reps are elected by gerrymandering and are not representatives. Jay Leno said "Politicians should where suits like race car drivers with their sponsors on them. The Governator of California came out against Prop 8 and he immediately fell and the same will happen to Obama. Whether to have sex or not regardless of what kind is a choice. A person does not have to have sex. Many "gays" convert to Christianity and aren't gay anymore. Can Obama convert to a white person. Insanity and they the reps and our leaders are insane. Read Romans Chapter 1 and you will see that God has turned them over to the devil and their minds are reprobate and they can't even figure out simple logic anymore.

I do not understand how anyone can justify opposing the passage of this legislation. With a reported hate crime committed against an LGBT person every hour of every day on average for the last 10 years would seem to prove it is needed. It is long overdue period. I can only say to those who seem so strongly opposed to the passage of this bill, perhaps it is time they give up wearing their sheets and hoods at night and find another more constructive use of their time.


this law goes both ways, it protect heterosexuals from violence by homosexuals and it protects homosexuals from violence by heterosexuals.

This is BULL! So now if I get in a FIGHT or DISPUTE with someone who has an abstract life choice, I get a felony. Yeah, you totally can't get framed for this one. Just because a few people who discriminate took their hate too far we change the lower and give the power of being called "Victims" to all gays involved in violent crimes. "Hate," is an emotion. You can't punish someone for having an emotion (which is what this law does AND assumes) and much less you can't PROVE IT. Way to go, Dems.

Posted by: Jon | October 23, 2009 at 12:07 AM

You are a moron. We don't need your hate speech buddy.

Even the idea of special punishment for "hate crimes" is ridiculous. You should be punished for what you DO, not what you THINK or DO NOT THINK. It's crazy! You may just have some argument with or dislike for someone and do something to them that has absolutely NOTHING to do with their sexual orientation (which you may or may not even be aware of), and if they HAPPEN to be gay you get extra punishment. Aghhhhh!!!

"This is BULL! So now if I get in a FIGHT or DISPUTE with someone who has an abstract life choice, I get a felony."

This guy makes the case for a hate crimes bill beautifully.

Like being Jewish, black, Cuban, a women, or a gay person is an "abstract life choice".

Who drained his gene pool?

No doubt this will get signed by Obama and a case will end up in the supreme court

Discrimination is wrong even when committing a crime. If you assault me (a crime) BECAUSE I'm gay, black, hispanic, or white, then you've committed another crime. The law makes sense. Read the law.

It still has to be proven that the crime was motivated by hate of one of those qualities. Also you have to commit a crime in the first place. This means you can yell obscenity or damn homosexuals all you want, that's your right to free speech, but if you assault them while damning them for being gay then you are clearly committing a hate crime. It works both ways though, if someone assaults you for holding a "God hates gays" sign or whatever and calls you a "stupid Christian" or such then they've just committed a hate crime against you.

We have multiple degrees of murder, and that is because we recognize that there are different levels of intent that deserve different punishments.

Listening to Rebublican opposition to this bill was laughable.

One bigot said the bill would stifle ministers from speaking out against homosexuality.

No, preachers, it just means you're not able to encourage your congregation to beat them to death or drag them behind cars.

I thought the point of religion was to preach others on how to "love your neighbor."

Yeah, right.

You cannot mindlessly shout obscenities at anyone anywhere and anytime you wish. There are various laws such as Disturbing the Peace, Obscene Conduct, and Stalking/Intimidating/Harassing that immediately come to mind.

No one is to be punished for what they think or what beliefs--however bigoted--they hold. That is a misunderstanding. You are punished for what your actions do that violate the law and bring harm to others.

Again, another poster misses the boat. You would not automatically be a "victim" of hate crime law simply because someone you harmed happened to fall under the tent, if you will. What is taken into consideration is that such an attack is based on sexual orientation or gender identity and, adjunctively, if that attack is meant to promote a bigotry which espouses violence.

I find it interesting that posters seem to have no rabidity against previous hate crime provisions. This would lend force to the argument that their bigotry is indeed a matter of bias against those whose sexuality they cannot approve of (as if that should be needed by any of us) or, for that matter, even comprehended at any significant level.

The bill addresses violence. And that's good. But it falls far short of what we need to promote more civility in this country. GLBTQ people face other challenges besides just violence. Moreover, who shall protect them from law breaking when it is the police and courts who violate and/or ignore the law? And that will happen. What then?

This is the criminalization of motivations. It's an extension of the thoughtcrime principle.

As a counterpoint to hoopdreamz, incitement to riot was already a crime.

Other problems:
- This violates the Constitution, as the federal gov't is not allowed to involve itself in criminal matters unless interstate commerce is involved. Of course, the Tenth gets violated all the time by conservatives and liberals alike.
- It violates the double jeopardy protection clause in spirit if not in the letter of the law. You can now be tried by an media-seeking US Attorney, for what you have already been tried for in state court.
- Motivation is not a crime in of itself. It must be coupled to an act. The act is the crime. This legislation criminalizes the motivations that create the intent for the crime. And it elevates certain motivations over others. If I kill someone, does it matter that I killed them for their skin color, or because they parked in my parking space? In fact, the intent is the same, that is to kill, now the reason for that intent is on trial as well.

Regarding comments left by the following persons: Jon, GospelVenice.com & BobF.

Do any of you have any gay friends? Do any of you have anyone in your families that are gay? Obviously NOT! Because, if you had friends or family that are gay, you'd think twice before writing the comments you wrote.

To Jon: Anyone involved in any type of crime is considered a "VICTIM". This has nothing to do with whether you're gay or straight. A comment like this is nothing more than IGNORANCE! And, crimes are backed by emotions, especially HATE CRIMES.

To GospelVenice.com: Your comment, "many gays convert to Christianity and aren't gay anymore", is nothing more that rediculous. I've been a christian my entire life and guess what, I'm still GAY!! God loves us all, no matter what color, religious beliefs, and/or sexual preference we all are; and to say differently is yet again, IGNORANCE!!

To BobF: Your comments: "This is BULL! So now if I get in a FIGHT or DISPUTE with someone who has an abstract life choice, I get a felony" and "Like being Jewish, black, Cuban, a women, or a gay person is an "abstract life choice". If you get into a fight or dispute with anyone, no matter color, race, sexual preference, etc., it is a CRIME, period! Also, how can you say that being Jewish, Black, Cuban, Female and/or Gay is as you say an "ABSTRACT LIFE CHOICE". Are you married? Do you have any jewish, black, Cuban, female or gay friends and/or family? This comment of yours is nothing short of "IGNORANT". Being any of the above doesn't make it an ABSTRACT LIFE CHOICE. I would guess that you are one of those WHITE RADICALS and/or a RED NECK to say such a thing. I pray for you and the other two ignorant people who left the above comments. May God help you all.

One day when the three of you least expect it, and you are in the emergency room of a hospital, you'll more than likely have a GAY, JEWISH, BLACK or FEMALE nurse and/or doctor taking care of you. What will you do? Will you accept treatment from these people or will you do the world a huge favor and drop dead; making the world a better place to live with out IGNORANT people such as yourselves!!!!! I'll be praying for the three of you and others like yourselves!!! IGNORANCE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A "HATE CRIME" AS WELL !!!!!!!!!!!!


"If I kill someone, does it matter that I killed them for their skin color, or because they parked in my parking space? In fact, the intent is the same, that is to kill, now the reason for that intent is on trial as well."


Lee.....

Yes, actually it does matter. It matters a lot. And the intent is not the same at all. The reason is this. Hate crime effects go well beyond the singular victim(s). Much like a rock thrown into a pool, they create ripples. They "send a message" of intimidation to others who are like the victim. "This could happen to you! You're next if you do not straighten up!"

The intent is to create intense fear and subsequent subjugation in a certain class of people much as the KKK did to black people back in their days of rule.

That is as anti-American as can be.

The whole idea of hate crimes is ridiculous. If you do the crime and then you have to do the time, then that should end it. All these plea bargainings are ridiculous.

The whole concept of a hate crime is dependent on someone reading the mind of the one perpetrating the crime and then prosecuting on that basis. The day you can do this with no errors, then maybe you have a basis for a hate crime. Other than that it is all smoke and mirrors. If you are gay, then you are free to make up stories about how this guy who mugged you did it because you are gay. No other proof needed. Ridiculous - and I am gay. I just think that I should be protected on the same basis as everybody else just as I should be able to live my life just as everybody else, no special favors, no special options.

This legislation and the people who support it are idiotic:

"Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives
honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families."

"With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era one in which hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated."

Since when is ANY kind of violence against ANYONE tolerated??? These supporters are under the false assumption that criminals who attack gays are not put in jail, but this is totally unproven and baseless. This bill will not increase justice, it will merely give federal prosecutors the opportunity to punish someone because of their beliefs.

When I was robbed at gun point in front of my home by three young black men, one of whom called me a cracker, I really did not care about their motivation or their color, they were robbing me. When my best friend's mother was shot in the face by a black guy during a robbery, no one really cared about the fact that the guy was black, they cared she was dead.

Were those hate crimes? Were they racially motivated? It was black on white crime, the vast majority of on white crime is from blacks but who the hell cares though. It is crime, no matter the source or reason. The perps wanted or needed something, they had a motivation, they were wrong no matter the motivation.

The hate crime legislation is just a move to elevate one group. There may be some need to do so, but not like this. We are throwing out all standards in this soceity and this bill is a reflection of it. In the future bills laws will be passed that will restrict my standards, I will not be able to tell an male employee not to wear a dress to work, I will have to allow an employee to get a sex change on our insurance plan, if the coaltions that got this bill past stays together, with their links to NAMBLA, I will be a hate crime when I beat the crap out a a man who has sex with my pre-teen son.

Standards people standards...

I do not understand how anyone can justify opposing the passage of this legislation. With a reported hate crime committed against an LGBT person every hour of every day on average for the last 10 years would seem to prove it is needed. It is long overdue period. I can only say to those who seem so strongly opposed to the passage of this bill, perhaps it is time they give up wearing their sheets and hoods at night and find another more constructive use of their time.
Posted by: Joanna Sue | October 23, 2009 at 12:26 AM

Joanna, plenty of non-racist, non-sexist, non-homophobic people oppose "hate crime" legislation because 1) the "hate crime" is already punishable (and punished! The perpetrators of the crimes mentioned in this article all got, you guessed it, prosecuted for murder!) - tacking on an additional criminal charge based on the criminal's thought process means that the "hate crime" is actually a thought-crime, and 2) this is yet another example of government creating extra rights for special groups of people. You cannot understand opposition to "hate crime" legislation because you do not understand the limitations on what our government can and cannot do as a constitutional democracy. Unfortunately, it is the supposed "progressives" like yourselves whose unthinking obedience will enable our government to impose a bureaucratic totalitarianism on us through legislation like this thought crime bill.

The Senate is to be commended, for this is a step in the right direction. It is not, in and of itself, a panacea but the message it sends is clear, morally correct, and necessary: It is a sad fact that even in this day and age, a large segment of society still regards gay men and women (among various minorities) as second-class citizens. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information is available at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/BrokenSaint.html or authorautobahn.webs.com/bookpeek.htm.

Mark Zamen, author

All prosecution of any crime involves "mind reading." Figuring out the motivation of a killing for example... whether it was pre-meditated murder or a "crime of passion" is "mind reading" by some of these poster's definitions.

Figuring out if "hate" was involved isn't mind reading... it's not thought policing... it's just good forensics. Hate does ripple, as one poster mentioned. Hate is transmitted by families and friends. Hate is contagious.

Further, prosecution of hate crimes allows for collection of statistics so that we as a country can find out if our violence is motivated by prejudice or for other reasons. It helps us track what's going on socially and as a developed country, our human rights score card is sorely lacking.

Christians who cry that their rights are infringed upon for not being able to hate homosexuals and transsexuals are foolish. Christianity is flexible... the Bible is the same, but the same churches have chosen to interpret the Bible differently through the ages. In the past, the Bible was used to justify racism against blacks and Jews.

Homosexuality and trans-sexuality are NOT choices. Scientific evidence shows that people are BORN gay or straight or transgendered. It's as much of a choice as being born black or Jewish...

I am delighted about this legislation, but it is apparent to me, reading the comments here, that it probably will not protect one gay person from abuse. Because the haters do not fear law.

Law is not what we need, what we need is love and compassion. People are not learning it in some churches any more, it's not taught at home. People are more likely taught to protect what they have than to love their neighbor. If you don't respect your neighbors right to exist because they are in some bad group, how do you remember that they are beloved children of God?

Here we are in the new Millenium, still talking about whether being Gay is a choice. Who would choose such a thing. I know I think I will be gay so I can get beat up in high school. That's my idea of fun! It makes my head hurt trying to follow the logic of that.

People are human and so deserve compassion, you have to wonder what terrible thing happened to make people so unwilling to accept other people. It's so anti-christian - something about a board in ones own eye and judge not. I guess people don't pay attention to that any more than moldy houses are thrown away or shrimp eaters are considered to be an abomination. (Check Leviticus for reference)

I hope that hate against any group based on their existence stops being preached in any church. I don't think this bill does that. I wish it were possible. I dream of the day.

The murderous Bolsheviks passed the very first 'hate crimes law' way back right after after the revolution. The law protected jews from discrimination and the penalty was death. Then they started the mass slaughter of Russian Christians.

Your following in such good footsteps.

The perpetrators in the Matthew Shepard travesty were convicted and sentenced to life in prison and to death row. How did the justice system fail here that a new law that's just BEGGING to be abused (by gays, by muslims, by anyone who wants to game the system) was necessary?

that just doesn't make sense

Hey, bro! Thanks for the post. I did not know about it. This post is very informative. Keep posting. Cheers!

I understand the rationalization behind passing the law but, I don't think they thought through the precendences it set for multiple other cases that are remotely similar to this one. slippery slope

Wow, intense post. I can't say agree with it! I totally agree with what "Jon" was saying. You can't punish people for hating and making us live in fear that any time we get into anything with someone like that, we have threats against us, etc! It's rather ridiculous. I don't hate gays, or "certain people", but our society is protecting the gays way too much these days! I don't get it.

No doubt this will get signed by Obama and a case will end up in the supreme court

I remember hearing about Matthew Shepard a while back...what a tragic story. I think it's important to have such laws only because there are certain groups that are attacked strictly because of their race, creed, sexual orientation, etc. It's not about a "society protecting the gays way too much these days." If someone attacks someone strictly based on their sexual orientation, that person needs to be punished because it's downright prejudice. But no matter what laws pass or do not pass...one truth will always remain...

Haters gonna hate.

its always going to be something.

I think that hate crimes directed at any kind of minority is decreasing as society is becoming more and more accepting of people and their differences. A city like Miami that is extremely diverse has a lot fewer hate crimes than cities without that kind of ethnic diversity.

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