Huffington Post reports that earlier today 35 Senate Republicans voted against passage of the defense authorization bill because it also contained hate crimes legislation. The defense bill including the hate crimes legislation, was sent on for final vote, and passed today.
The National Center for Transgender Equality celebrated a hard-won victory:
In an historic
move, the United States Senate, by a vote of 68 to 29, joined the House of Representatives in passing The
Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will be
the first federal law to include gender identity and transgender people. Once
signed by the President, this law will add sexual orientation, gender identity,
gender and disability to the categories included in existing federal hate
crimes law and will allow local governments who are unable or unwilling to
address hate crimes to receive assistance from the federal government.
President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.
The earlier vote, however, brought criticism, especially following on the heels of another vote this week in which Republicans rejected a bill that would have forbidden defense contractors from asking employees to sign away their rights in the case of rape of sexual assault.
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Senate Harry Reid criticized the actions of Republicans in voting against the hate crimes bill on an important defense authorization act:
outrageous and unacceptable that Senate Republicans would vote against
pay raises for our troops, battlefield equipment upgrades and increased
funding for veterans’ health care as we continue to fight two wars. And
they decided to do this all for the sake of stopping passage of
landmark legislation that will bring justice to those who commit
violent crimes based on bigotry and prejudice. What message does that
send to our country and, more importantly, to our troops?"
Indeed, says Jeff Muskus of Huffington Post:
It’s not easy to get 35 Republican senators to vote against defense spending — unless hate crimes legislation is involved.
The Senate narrowly invoked cloture on Thursday, 64 to 35, on the
defense authorization package with the bill named for Matthew Shepard
attached. The bill, named for a gay Wyoming teenager who was kidnapped
and beaten to death in 1998, makes it a federal crime to assault
someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Senate Republicans, writes Muskus, conceded that the Shepard bill swung their votes
against the defense package.
"The bill includes hate crimes
legislation, which I firmly believe is unnecessary, irresponsible, and
certainly not germane to this bill," Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said.
"There is little evidence that indicates that violent crimes motivated
by hate go unpunished in the United States. Every single state has come
from laws that prohibit the behavior addressed by hate crimes
legislation, including laws against rape, assault and battery."
Those are states’ rights issues, said Chambliss. "I do not believe
the federal government should interfere with the criminal laws already
on the books in our states," he said.
Only Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine voted with Democrats to move the legislation to a final vote, which is expected Thursday night or Friday.
"I’m disappointed that Senate Republicans have decided that
defeating hate crimes legislation takes precedent over supporting our
troops," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.
Protecting contractors from rape charges is another area where the Republicans have shown themselves willing to throw victims to the wolves. Muskus writes:
Thirty Republicans also touched a nerve in a separate defense bill recently, when they voted against
an amendment that would deny defense contracts to companies that ask
employees, including rape victims, to sign away the right to sue. That
time, they were actually joined in some of their concerns by the
Department of Defense.
The Shepard bill passed the House two weeks ago, 281 to 146 and President Obama has
promised to sign it, a reversal from the policy of the