First Big Gay Rights Test

Are Federal Hate Crime Laws a Done Deal?

congressWhile the action for gay rights has mostly been focused on state issues so far this year, the first major federal fight for gay rights is beginning to heat up, but many gay activists are already crowing about victory.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (which we will now and forever refer to by the unwieldy initialism LLEHCPA), which would authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability was introduced last week in the House and is expected to be introduced by presidential pooch-giver Ted Kennedy in the Senate.

Everyone says they have the votes, but does a filibuster loom?

The Washington Blade spoke with HRC director Joe Solomonese, whose group has set-up a website called Fight Hate Now to raise awareness about the bill. According to the Blade:

“Solmonese said he still thinks it’s possible for Obama to sign the measure within the six-month timeline.

“I would think that if it happened slightly outside of that first six-month period, it would be a matter of scheduling the vote in both chambers and nothing more than that,” he said.

Solmonese … said [he] expected a House floor vote on the legislation later this month or in May, but the timeline was less clear in the U.S. Senate.

“Getting some signals in terms of when the House is moving,” Solmonese said, “will help inform what’s going to happen in the Senate.”

tedkennedywikipediaimageThe legislation will be the first major test of how willing the Democratically controlled Congress is to take up LGBT rights-focused discrimination. Previously, Kennedy tried introducing a similar measure by attaching it to a defense spending bill to no avail. As optimistic as many Washington insiders are, there are several factors at work which could derail the bill:

Gay-focused LGBT legislation has no cover

LGBT issues have typically been woven into other bills to provide a level of protection against Republicans seeking to vote the issue down. The straight-up-the-middle approach is a relatively new one for LGBT legislation and when it’s been attempted in the past, it usually fails. The flip side of this is that by having a ‘pure bill’, you’ll get elected officials putting themselves on the record as either for or against gay rights. Legislators may think twice about voting against the hate crimes bill now that the gay community has shown itself capable of organizing loud, vocal and often politically damaging protests.

The power of the grassroots gay community to enable more mainstream gay efforts is sort of ironic, considering the bad blood between the two factions of the gay political movement, but in practice, they can have quite a one-two punch.

Don’t assume all Democrats will vote for a gay rights bill

A Democrat in Texas is a far cry from a Democrat in New York and without cover, Democrats representing more conservative districts will need some cajoling to vote for a bill their opponent could use against them in the next election. The solution here isn’t to hide the bill, but rather for Congressional leaders and LGBT activists to help educate district and state voters about the bill and frame the debate before the right has an opportunity to do so.

HRC is doing this in a way through their website– it’s easy for local constituents to write their representative urging they support the bill, but as it winds its way through Congress, LGBT must be willing to do more. Targeted television ads as well as grassroots canvassing in suspect districts– as well as moderate Republican strongholds– could be critical come roll call time.

Republicans (even gay Republicans!) oppose the bill

Yes, Virginia, there are still Republicans in D.C. and they’re pretty angry and bitter at the moment. The more ostracized G.O.P. voters feel from the political process, the more likely they are to embrace conservative values. Suffice it to say, currently, the social conservatives dominate the conversation. Already, Republican Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert is speaking out on the House floor against the bill, saying:

“Many people do not understand the Christian heart because they just don’t like people that disagree with them. Whereas the true Christian heart can disagree with people and love them, love them deeply, and be willing to give their lives for them… We are not going to protect religious speech because you can go after a minister who says relations outside of a marriage of a man and a woman [are] wrong. Someone goes out after hearing that, shoots somebody, and then [argues] ‘The preacher told me it was wrong. That’s what induced me to do that — the sermons, the Bible teachings, what not.’”

Even members of the newly formed GOProud have spoken out against the bill, considering “all crimes to be hate crimes.” It’s an old saw, but expect it to be repeated. The GOP may have moderated its stance from outright hatred to a sort of queasy compassionate dislike of the gay community, but many still believe that legislative gay bashing is a political winner back at home. With little to lose, the threat of a filibuster can’t be ignored.

Do you think federal hate crimes legislation can get passed all on its own in Congress? How much of a litmus test is it for future legislation? Should Obama use some if his political clout to speak out in the bill’s favor? How much do you want to bet he will?

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  • bigjake75

    Well we will see if all the time and money the glbt community gave to Obama and the dems will pay off. I hope it does. If not, there are no excuses. They have total power now. And a filibuster should be no problem. Both GOP senators from Maine are liberal enough to vote to allow a vote!

    Being a libertarian, i used to be against hate crime legislation…I don’t believe that ANY inequality should exist in the law. but until our society gets over hitting us in the head with bats and bullets because they don’t approve of how we love…we need to up the penalty.

    I just hope the bill makes the prosecution prove the hate in the crime. I never want someone to do time because of an intent the did not have.

    Lets go everyone, blow up the phones and the emails. If Pelosi and Reid cannot get this done, they need to be stripped of leadership. The time to enforce all our rights is now!!

  • InExile

    I bet he will not speak out boldly in support of the bill, he will mention in passing that it is a good idea. The GOP will fight this bill because it would establish the LGBT community as a protected class and in their view opens the door to other rights like marriage. I really wish the President would speak out in favor of the bill or speak out about anything relating to our community, his silence has been very disappointing thus far regarding LGBT issues. Funny how things change after the election is over and all the money has been collected!

  • flightoftheseabird

    The President has spoke about this issue in the past, but more than that, item #1 under “Support for the LGBT Community” in the Civil Rights section of is Expand Hate Crimes Statutes.

    I would expect that once the bill is introduced we will hear from the president on this.

  • Peter

    How can we get the President to understand that for him to ‘use his religion’ to discriminate is a total disregard for the U S Constitution of separation of church and state; especially since he is teacher of constitutional law????

  • Alec

    @Peter: What do you mean? His opposition to marriage?

  • Elijah

    “The straight-up-the-middle approach is a relatively new one for LGBT legislation” …

    Guess it depends on how you define “relatively new.” Consider the following stand alone examples regarding gay job discrimination legislation from the THOMAS service of the Library of Congress (While Bella Abzug’s & Ed Koch’s HR-4752 of 1974 was colloquially known as “The Gay Rights Bill,” in addition to “sexual orientation,” it would have added “sex” and “marital status” protection to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)

    H.R. 166, H.R. 2667, H.R. 5452, and H.R. 10389 – all 1975 – 34 years ago.

    H.R. 13019, H.R. 13928 – 1976

    H.R. 2074, S. 2081 – 1979 et al., through

    H.R. 2015, H.R. 3685 – 2007.

    Though a “resolution” was introduced in 1991, the first formal attempt in Congress to overturn the military ban on gays I’m aware of was H.R. 5208, the “Military Freedom Act,” was introduced in 1992.


    “now that the gay community has shown itself capable of organizing . . . often politically damaging protests”

    As the Wikipedia zombies scream: “citation needed.”

  • Jake

    Alec – you seem to be tight with the HX guys – I heard that they just closed. Is there any truth to that? They have left tons of creditors out of money I heard but have had no confirmation.

  • Alec

    @Jake: I don’t know them at all. Perhaps you’re thinking of a different poster?

  • rogue dandelion

    somehow i am preparing for disappointment… my guess is that it will come around the same time the CA court abandons us officially.

  • atdleft

    Why is this even “controversial”? Why must our civil rights always be put up for a vote?

  • Alec

    @atdleft: Um, employment discrimination and hate crimes legislation needs to be voted on. That isn’t something a court can decree.

  • atdleft

    @Alec: I know that. I guess I should have warned that my above comment was more of a rhetorical question. I know we must suffer the indignity of having our community politicized every day, but it still sucks that we’re so “controversial” just for being who we are.

  • Elijah

    @ Alec

    Where is it written that courts can’t rule on whatever they choose?

    In “Romer v. Evans,” one of our few wins in the US Supreme Court, they overturned Colorado’s Amendment 2 which banned any law in the state that might protect gays from discrimination. (Of course, Scalia & Thomas thought the law was just nifty and dissented.) The Romer case rationale contributed later to the overturn of sodomy laws in “Lawrence v. Texas.”

    Sadly, the same court upheld a virtually identical law in Ohio that only applied in Cincinnati, but it was eventually overturned by voters.

  • Alec

    @Elijah: A court can’t simply write hate crimes legislation into the criminal code or ban employment discrimination. What they can do is evaluate laws and determine whether or not they’re unconstitutional. That’s what happened with Amendment 2; CO did not prohibit anti-gay discrimination until about ten years after the Court decided Romer.

  • Elijah

    Of course, courts don’t “write” legislation, but, regardless of what you intended, your original broad “decree” brush implied they have no jurisdiction.

    The separate thread misrepresenting the transgender hate crime trial in Colorado is the latest example of how things carelessly written are misinterpreted.

  • Alec

    @Elijah: They can’t create a claim out of nothing. If someone filed suit in federal court alleging employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the defendants would file a Rule 12(b)(6) motion (failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted) and that would be the end of the matter.

    It wasn’t carelessly written, it was carelssly interpreted.

  • Elijah

    @ Bitch er Alex

    WHO were you intially responding to? Did a post asserting that courts initiate legislation get deleted that you responded to?

  • Bruno

    Polling shows about 70-75% of Americans support anti-discrimination legislation which includes sexual orientation. As long as it’s seen as an anti-discrimination bill, Republicans and ConservaDems vote against it at their own political peril.

  • Alec

    @Elijah: I was responding to ATDLEFT, who wrote “Why must our civil rights always be put up for a vote?”. I pointed out that in this context a legislative vote was necessary.

  • John in CA

    This legislation will sail through the House quite easily. In the Senate, the outcome is less clear.

    Of course, you could substitute any piece of Obama’s agenda in place of “gay rights” and come to similar conclusions. The problem is Harry Reid and the other 14-15 Conservadems in the United States Senate. They always cave when the GOP gets belligerent. The Republicans haven’t actually had to read the phone book (filibuster) anything. All they do is threaten to do so. And then, predictably, Reid gives into their demands without a fight.

    It isn’t the President or the House of Representatives that’s playing obstructionist here.

  • Monica Roberts

    I have mailed all 535 people in the Senate and House, as well as all Department secretaries, all well as the Queen of the United Kingdom to insist that they

    • Immediately pass a low out-lawing hatred based on genitalia concerns, and
    • implement the “Fair Shoe Sizing for Transies International Act” of 1982

    Until then I will toil and spin

Comments are closed.