Saturday, October 10, 2009

Social conservatives mount last-ditch effort to stop the hate crimes bill from becoming law

Social conservatives who are opposed to the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill that extends federal protection to gay and transgender victims and nearing passage in Congress are mounting a last-ditch effort to defeat it. Yesterday, the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill, which was attached to a $680-billion defense policy bill, passed by a vote of 281 to 146, with Republicans complaining that they had been put in the politically awkward position of voting against a defense bill.

Fox News reports:
The House voted Thursday to make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation, significantly expanding the U.S. hate crimes law enacted in the days after the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, allowing federal prosecutors for the first time to intervene in cases of violence perpetrated against gays. No one is arguing against the prosecution of assaults. But opponents, fearing threats to free speech under broad interpretations of the legislation, are pushing voters to contact their senators to voice their displeasure over the expansion of the existing law. They acknowledge the odds are against them.

"It's going to be very difficult to defeat at this stage," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a law firm that works on religious freedom cases. Staver said he is hoping for a "groundswell of support" to stop the bill dead in its tracks and at the very least raise awareness of the bill's far-reaching impact. If that fails, Staver said his groups is "strongly considering" filing a lawsuit based on the broad language of the bill that he says would allow federal intervention into past cases, including ones of alleged rape.

Although it's been 11 years since the gay college student Matthew Shepard, whose name was attached to the legislation, was murdered in the state of Wyoming, his death is still a fresh memory for supporters of the legislation.

But social conservatives, including former President George W. Bush, argue their right to free speech will be jeopardized if it becomes law. They say it could be used to prosecute religious groups who say homosexuality is wrong. Some have taken that argument to the extreme, saying the bill will lead to the legalization of necrophilia, pedophilia, and bestiality. "If you're oriented toward animals, bestiality, then that's not something that can be used, held against you or any bias be held against you for that," Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, said on the House floor Tuesday. "Which means you'd have to strike any laws against bestiality, if you're oriented toward corpses, toward children…there are all kinds of perversions … but the trouble is, we made amendments to eliminate pedophiles from being included in the definition."

Supporters countered that prosecutions could occur only when bodily injury is involved, and no minister or protester could be targeted for expressing opposition to homosexuality.