A White House spokesman has reiterated that President Bush will veto Congressional efforts to extend federal hate crimes legislation to cover gender identity and sexual orientation.
Senator Ted Kennedy has attached the new crime measure to a defence authorisation bill, in an effort to persuade the President to accept new protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.
The defence bill was filibustered, or talked out, by Republican Senators because it contained a clause setting a date for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
The bill, and the attached Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, will be considered again by the Senate in the autumn.
Christian activists and homophobic lobby groups such as Concerned Women for America have waged a concerted campaign against the legislation in Congress.
The new measures would extend protections on the grounds of race or religion to cover LGBT people, but requires the President’s signature to become law.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters yesterday that President Bush will not sign, even if it means sending the defence bill back to Congress.
“The qualifications [in the bill] are so broad that virtually any crime involving a homosexual individual has potential to have hate crimes elements,” he said, according to The Washington Times.
“The proposals they’re talking about are not sufficiently narrow.”
In May the hate crimes bill was approved by the House of Representatives after an historic 237-180 bipartisan vote.
There was heated debate on the House floor, with opponents of the legislation parroting a massive disinformation campaign being waged by anti-gay activist groups such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition.
The Family Research Council, for example, is portraying the measures as a “thought crimes” bill, falsely asserting that the legislation could impinge on the First Amendment by penalising people for voicing non-violent anti-gay beliefs.
When it moved to the Senate it was named Matthew Shepard Act, after the gay 21 year old beaten and left to die, tied to a fence, in freezing conditions in Wyoming in 1998.
He was the victim of a hate crime, targeted because of his sexuality.
His murder prompted President Clinton to propose LGBT hate crime legislation in 1999, but it foundered in the face of a hostile Republican Congress. Attempts to reintroduce the legislation failed the next year.
Matthew Shepard’s mother has been lobbying Congress to pass the new legislation.
In an opinion piece for politico.com in May she explained the climate of resistance to protections for LGBT people:
“Congressional offices all across Washington are being flooded with phone calls opposing the legislation because political organisations on the ultra-right have been lying to their members, and telling them that this legislation would punish religious people for anti-gay speech,” Mrs Shepard wrote.
“One group spreading misinformation has even gone so far as to put a picture of Jesus on a “Wanted” poster, implying that religious people who speak out against homosexuality could become the targets of criminal investigations.
“Obviously, that’s just not true.
“The people spreading this type of propaganda are blatantly lying to their members out of fear that the federal government might finally legislatively recognise that gay Americans exist, and need the same rights and protections the rest of us take for granted.”
The proposed legislation will strengthen the ability of federal, state and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, religion, colour, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.
It would also enable the US Justice Department to assist in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. The bill will also provide grants to help state and local governments meet the extraordinary expenses involved in hate crime cases.
According to the FBI, sexual orientation bias motivated 14% of such crimes in 2005.
Up to 65 Senators are expected to vote for it when it comes before them in September or October.