Yesterday, President Barack Obama issued a press release where he urged Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act, which failed to make it through the Senate in 2007. And everyone is all excited about Obama defending our rights! What nobody seems to be doing? Mentioning the fact that this is the first time — on the eve of Congress’ vote — that Obama has spent anytime trying to get our elected officials to put hate crimes legislation on his desk.
In the brief statement released yesterday, Obama says: “This week, the House of Representatives is expected to consider H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association. I also urge the Senate to work with my Administration to finalize this bill and to take swift action.”
Wow! Thank you, Mr. President! But, uh, aren’t you weighing in on this a little bit late? Why has it taken you until the day before Congress will go to a vote to make a statement about the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act? And your support for it? And that you want Congress to pass it?
Sure, Obama has had a busy first 100 days, but he’s also got a giant team of gophers at his disposal, ready and willing to deliver statements — however meaningful — of support or disgust. And yet this is the first time since Obama was elected that he’s made any (public) effort to get on Congress’ back to get this bill passed. (We asked the White House’s director of specialty media Shin Inouye to confirm this was the first time Obama specifically addressed the matter. Inouye tells Queerty “I’d have to check on specifics.” We’ll let you know what we hear.)
Yes, during the campaign, Obama’s website offered his commitment to hate crimes legislation: “Obama and Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section.”
But those are words. Just like his statement yesterday. We need action. Obama says he’s an ally to our community, and despite his no-gay-marriage stance, we accept that he wants what’s best for us even if he doesn’t know what that is. And he keeps telling us he’s committed to civil rights. But does a day-before written “urging” count for much?
The Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to pass the bill. And Obama’s camp undoubtedly has a better pulse on which way our representatives are leaning. But does the 11th hour statement signal that to Obama, hate crimes is an after thought?