Hate crime bill passes Senate

The new measure includes violent acts motivated by sexual-orientation bias.

In late September, the Senate passed legislation to include bias against sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity under federal hate crime laws. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (perhaps better known as the Matthew Shepard Act) passed on its own in the House earlier this year, but the Senate attached the measure to a war bill in hopes of preventing a veto from President George W. Bush.

Current federal law includes violent acts motivated by bias of gender, religion, race or national origin. Supporters of the legislation have been working for nearly a decade to include these groups under the 1969 United States federal hate crime law, and this is the furthest the measure has come. The new measure will also remove the qualification of the hate crime occurring while the victim is pursuing a federally protected activity, and it will increase federal funding for hate crime investigations which are often too expensive for local jurisdictions to take on.

Bush has threatened to veto it even though it is attached to the Defense Reauthorization bill. Opponents argue that hate crime legislation provokes “thought crimes” – or being able to prosecute people for expressing hateful personal beliefs. Other dissenting opinions include that hate crime investigations are incredibly expensive and difficult to pursue under the already existing requirements, and giving protection to more people will be too costly.

According to FBI statistics from 2005, around 14 percent of hate crime incidents result from bias against sexual orientation. This legislation will protect those who are vulnerable to hate-related violence. It’s simply a matter of protecting people – those in our lives and those who are strangers – whatever the cost.