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October 28, 2009: Obama Signs Landmark Hate Crimes Leglislation into Law

President Barack Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law authorizes the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute violent attacks in which the perpetrator has targeted a victim because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The law is part of a larger defense authorization bill. “This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” says Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered] Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality.” A statement released by 29 LGBT groups says, in part: “It took much too long, more than a decade. And it came at too great a price: the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After) and James Byrd Jr. (see June 7, 1998 and After) are just two among the thousands of crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.… [L]awmakers and the president have made an imperative statement to the country and the world: Our nation will no longer tolerate hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.” The legislation has languished in Congress for nearly a decade, largely because of conservative opposition. Representative Mike Pence (R-IL), one of the harshest critics of the new law, accuses Obama of signing the bill as part of his “radical agenda” that puts his “liberal social priorities ahead of an unambiguous affirmation of our men and women in uniform.” Pence adds: “Every day, our armed forces stand in defense of freedom and our cherished way of life. It is deeply offensive to their service and to millions of Americans to pile so-called ‘hate crimes’ legislation onto a bill that authorizes critical resources for our troops. Hate crimes legislation is antithetical to the First Amendment, unnecessary, and will have a chilling effect on religious freedom.” [Fox News, 10/28/2009; New England Bay Windows, 10/28/2009] The law was included in the National Defense and Authorization Act of 2009 in part to weaken Republican opposition. Many Republicans such as Pence railed against the bill in both the House and Senate, but many voted for the legislation despite their opposition to the act. Many Republicans have criticized the placement of the law into the defense authorization legislation. Many conservative organizations, such as the Christian group Focus on the Family (FOTF), says the new law creates “thought crimes” by outlawing not just actions, but beliefs and attitudes. FOTF and Congressional Republicans such as Representative Steve King (R-IA) have also claimed that the new law legitimizes pedophilia and other illegal sexual practices, ignoring findings by legal and political analysts who called such claims “preposterous.” [St. Petersburg Times, 5/14/2009; Colorado Independent, 10/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Matthew Shepard, Steve King, Joe Solmonese, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Focus on the Family, Barack Obama, James Byrd, Jr, Mike Pence

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

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