December 06, 2007
Matthew Shepard Act RIP?
Posted by: Chris
Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Edward Kennedy acquiesced this morning to demands by Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee to remove the Matthew Shepard Act from the Defense Department funding bill, the Washington Blade and 365gay.com are reporting. That deeply disappointing decision comes several weeks after press accounts first surfaced from Capitol Hill that the hate crime measure was caught in a wedge in the House between conservatives who opposed the hate crime add-on and liberals who opposed Iraq war funding.
In an (unfortunately typical) unbylined story that cites no sources, 365gay.com reports: "In a private meeting Wednesday night, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that if the Senate continued to insist on the hate crimes provision the defense legislation would fail." (Usually when Logo's 365gay engages in such irresponsible (and illegal) journalism, it means they've stolen the story outright from another media source,
probably in this case Congressional Quarterly, which restricts most of its web content to subscribers. Who knows, in this case. As it turns out, 365gay stole the info from AP, which 365gay at least pays for but did not appropriately credit.)
That AP report quotes an unidentified House as saying the hate crime inclusive DOD bill was "40 votes short, not four or six."
Regardless, the saga surrounding the Matthew Shepard Act is most striking in contrast to what happened with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The parallels are obvious: a House whip count showed the votes weren't there for transgender protections in ENDA, so they were stripped and the compromise bill passed the House. It appears the same fate befell the Shepard Act as part of the DOD reauthorization, although it's unclear whether the inclusion of "gender identity" helped tank the hate crime bill, too.
Even if the Shepard Act would have siphoned off too many votes from the DOD bill as a gay-only measure, the Democrats don't get a bye on this one. The tactic of adding the hate crime bill to the Defense Department bill was suspect from the beginning, but it was Kennedy and Reid who decided to do so, knowing the Iraq war already made that legislation a white-hot button. Granted, they did so because President Bush threatened to veto a stand-alone Shepard Act, but having chosen that path the onus was on Congressional Democrats to see the measure through to passage.
This is the rub on the Democratic Party and gay rights on the federal level. Despite overwhelming support for hate crimes and workplace protections for years now, the Democrats have not made either measure a sufficiently high priority to get the job done, even when they controlled one or both houses of Congress and the White House. A gay-inclusive hate crime bill has passed the House and Senate several times before, only to die because Republicans killed it in conference, Now that the Democrats are in charge, and we get the same result.
Also on the hook are Matt Foreman, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the so-called "United ENDA" organizations. These groups managed to mount a massive lobbying push after Barney Frank announced that trans protections were being pulled from ENDA so that it could pass the House. But despite weeks of advance notice, they stayed almost entirely silent when the fate of the Shepard Act -- which is trans-inclusive -- hung in the balance.
There's no excuse for that, and it makes that earlier ENDA fight look less and less like one over principle and more and more like Beltway posturing by the Task Force to elbow the Human Rights Campaign out of favor with grassroots GLBT groups. HRC isn't off the hook either, having waited until after the Thanksgiving holiday, losing two critical lobbying weeks, to issue its first action alert signaling the hate crimes bill was in jeopardy. During the ENDA fight, HRC also mounted a no-holds-barred lobbying effort for the trans provision, but inexplicably we saw nothing like that for the Shepard Act.
Thankfully, the Blade is also reporting that Barney Frank, for one, hasn't given up the fight on hate crimes and is calling on the Senate to pass the Shepard Act again as a stand-alone measure by the end of February. Considering the hate crime bill got 60 votes in the Senate even as a controversial add-on to the DOD bill, that should be an easy sell. So should be finding a less controversial bill to tack the Shepard Act on as an amendment, shielding it from a possible Bush veto.
But as always, we wait for Congressional Democrats (and our Washington, D.C. lobbying groups) to actually produce results.
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