Congressional aides are reporting that a US House-Senate conference committee has dropped the hate-crimes legislation co-sponsored by Senators Gordon Smith and Edward Kennedy from a defence authorisation bill because it did not have sufficient support in the House.

The legislation, formally known as the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would have expanded federal law to include crimes committed against people because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Gay rights groups and supporters reacted strongly to the decision, with Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, telling the Associated Press that the legislation is “the last clear chance this year for Congress to make a meaningful effort to stop hate crime violence.”

Added Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese: “Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, especially given the historic passage of hate crimes legislation through both Houses of Congress this year.

“After more than ten years and several successful bipartisan votes, it is heartbreaking to fall short this close to the finish line.

“However, we are not giving up on efforts to find another legislative vehicle, in the second half of this Congress, to move the Matthew Shepard Act.”

Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, released a statement yesterday:

“We are truly dismayed to find that Congress now will put aside its leadership on passage of federal hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

“At this time of year that fills us all with hope for humankind, we are sad to find that a Congressional majority of each House who have already adopted the Matthew Shepard Act cannot yet come together,” they added.

“If not here, where? If not now, when?”

The Shepards said they are “dedicated to redoubling our efforts next year to achieve our vision of a hate-free America that truly includes everyone. This has never simply been about Matthew Shepard and our family, this legislation is a gift delayed but never forgotten for all America’s families.”

Bryan Ochalla © 2007 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.