Obama Signs Hate Crimes Bill into Law; Protections Extended to Gays; Act Hailed as 'Historic Milestone'

Article excerpt


President Obama delivered a major victory to the gay rights movement Wednesday by signing into law a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the class of minorities protected under federal hate crime laws.

The historic and controversial legislation was attached to a $680 billion defense authorization bill that was noteworthy for its elimination of some costly weapons systems and its expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking to an emotional audience of a few hundred gay rights activists in the White House East Room, hours after a separate ceremony for the defense authorization bill signing, Mr. Obama called the hate crimes portion of the legislation the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade.

The president said the bill would move the United States closer toward becoming a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the most prominent gay rights group in Washington, said the bill was the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans.

[It] represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality, Mr. Solmonese said. This law sends a loud message that perpetrators of hate violence against anyone will be brought to justice.

The law adds gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the classes of minorities already protected under federal hate crimes law. Minority classes already protected were race, religion, ethnicity and nationality.

Critics said that because the new law only adds harsher penalties for acts that are already illegal and subject to criminal prosecution, its main achievement is to move the nation toward the criminalization of politically incorrect speech.

Bills of this sort are designed to forward a political agenda and silence critics, not combat actual crime, said Erik Stanley, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian advocacy group.

All violent crimes are hate crimes, and all crime victims deserve equal justice. This law is a grave threat to the First Amendment because it provides special penalties based on what people think, feel or believe, Mr. Stanley said.

Conservative Christian leaders are fearful of precedents in Europe and Canada, where church pastors have been jailed for short periods over statements of faith that homosexuality is sinful. …