Expand Hate-Crimes Law

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Cynics will no doubt accuse Sen. Gordon Smith of election-year opportunism for co-sponsoring, along with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., legislation that would expand the federal law on hate crimes to cover violence against gays and lesbians.

They'll be wrong.

It was more than two years ago after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student, that Smith became one of a handful of congressional Republicans to champion an amendment adding violence motivated by gender, sexual orientation and disability to the roster of federal hate crimes. "We just need to be big enough in our hearts, our laws and our minds to be concerned about people who are vulnerable," Smith said at the time.

He was right. So was President Bush when he reminded the nation after Sept. 11 that hate crimes have no place in America today. That's true whether it's Muslims who are being attacked because of their religion, race or national origin, or gays and lesbians who are being attacked because their sexual orientation.

Under the current hate crimes law, the federal government can prosecute hate crimes only in cases where the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting, or if the crime occurred on federal property. The new bill would remove those limitations and allow federal investigators and prosecutors to pursue hate crimes wherever they occur, and under whatever circumstances.

The current 34-year-old law also allows only race, color, religion or national origin to be the basis of a federal hate-crime case. The Smith-Kennedy bill would expand the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to investigate violent crimes motivated by actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender and disability. …