The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed cloture in the United States Senate last night. How awesome is that?
For starters, hate crimes legislation is a no-brainer and should have been passed as a stand-alone bill - on its own merits - months ago. My political friends will say "that's not how it works," but I have one thing to say to that: Bull. The U.S. House of Representatives passed it as a stand-alone bill in April. The Senate - still missing in action.
The Matthew Shepard bill was first attached to a Tourism Bill - if you can believe that - before being shunted off to a military funding bill.
Secondly, President Obama has repeatedly said he will veto the military authorization bill due to the politics behind the F-22 aircraft. And you can bet the Republicans will argue for funding for a war-fighting aircraft that is over-priced and past its prime to shoot down hate crimes legislation.
To me, this is ridiculous. A bit of leadership from both Capitol Hill and the White House, and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would now be law. As a stand-alone piece of legislation. And, yes - symbols matter.
I'm seeing a larger problem here, with everyone from the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With high poll numbers, a commanding lead in both houses of Congress and a popular president, I don't get it. I'm not seeing any action here, and actions speak louder than words.
First, some history regarding the hate crimes legislation, courtesy of The Washington Post:
The Senate on Thursday approved the most sweeping expansion of federal hate crimes law since Congress responded four decades ago to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The legislation, backed by President Barack Obama, would extend federal protections granted under the 1968 hate crimes law to cover those physically attacked because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
"This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
The Post goes on to say that "the measure still has a way to go." With President Obama promising to veto the defense bill because of the F-22 fighter, it's still not certain the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be enacted. For what it's worth, the United States House of Representatives - to their credit - passed a similar bill - but as independent legislation.
But enough about those more-words-and-no-action senators (as we saw with the Sotomayor hearings this week). Here's what a few gay rights organizations are saying about the vote late Thursday in the Senate to end "cloture" and attach the hate crimes bill to military spending.
From the Human Rights Campaign, which always seems to want to trumpet its own horn before it gets to the point (check out the first sentence):
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised the U.S. Senate today for successfully invoking a motion for cloture to proceed to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909) Amendment, which would provide local police and sheriff's departments with federal resources to combat hate violence. The cloture motion to consider the Amendment to the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization bill was adopted on a vote of 63 to 28.
Or this, from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund applauds the U.S. Senate's approval today of an inclusive hate crimes amendment, as part of the Department of Defense authorization bill. Hate crimes legislation cleared the House in April with a vote of 249 to 175. After the Senate finishes debate on and passes the Department of Defense authorization bill, the legislation will likely move to conference committee where differences will be ironed out.
I'm not suggesting that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will let the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act fall through the cracks. But the fact of the matter is, despite Mr. Obama's and Senator Reid's promise to get the hate crimes portion of the bill passed - until it becomes law, it's all talk and no action.
And the politics of a fighter jet versus the reality of the need for a hate crimes bill should make everyone stop in their tracks for a moment and wonder: What's going on and what are we paying these people for?
Actions speak louder than words. Show me some action.