US hate crimes bill in “serious jeopardy”
American gay rights campaigners have warned that there could be less than a week to save a new bill before Congress that extends federal hate crime laws to LGBT people.
In April the proposed new federal law, that would grant protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the United States, was named after the murdered gay teenager who brought the issue of hate crimes into the American consciousness.
Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead, tied to a fence in freezing Wyoming in 1998.
He was the victim of a hate crime, targeted because he was gay, and his story has inspired Senators from both sides to try to bring forward new laws.
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.
However, last month a White House spokesman reiterated that President Bush will veto the hate crimes legislation.
In September the US Senate voted 60 to 39 to allow the new legislation to move forward.
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It was approved by a “voice vote” as an amendment to a military finance measure.
Leading gay organisation Human Rights Campaign said in a statement:
“Senate leadership employed a commonplace strategy with this bill. They calculated that the only chance of a Matthew Shepard Act surviving Bush’s veto pen was if it were attached to a ‘must-pass’ Department of Defence bill.
“But now that House and Senate are reconciling their versions of the defence bill, it is under attack from anti-gay conservatives against hate crimes legislation, as well as progressive, pro-equality lawmakers who oppose some of the bill’s provisions for the war in Iraq.”
In May the House of Representatives passed a companion bill, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) with a bipartisan margin of 237 to 180.
Twenty-six state Attorneys General as well as 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organisations support the Matthew Shepard Act and the LLEHCPA.