NPR logo

Hate Crimes Measure Tied to Defense Spending

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14793299/14793279" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Hate Crimes Measure Tied to Defense Spending

U.S.

Hate Crimes Measure Tied to Defense Spending

Hate Crimes Measure Tied to Defense Spending

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14793299/14793279" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, and Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon (center) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in April. Kennedy and Smith have sponsored a hate crimes measure named in honor of Shepard's son, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in 1998. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, and Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon (center) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in April. Kennedy and Smith have sponsored a hate crimes measure named in honor of Shepard's son, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in 1998.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Defying the threat of a presidential veto, the Senate included landmark hate crimes legislation to the annual bill that authorizes defense spending.

No president has ever vetoed such a defense bill, and this one includes both higher pay for the military and better health care for the wounded. Supporters of the hate crimes measure mustered enough support Thursday to defeat a filibuster, but they were still short of the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto.

Bipartisan Group Seeks Broader Law

For the last decade, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has been trying to broaden a federal hate crimes law to include not only crimes motivated by the victim's race, religion, or national origin, but also physical disability and, in particular, sexual orientation.

The bill has been passed repeatedly, only to die in House-Senate negotiations that were controlled by Republicans. Now, the Democrats are in the majority, so Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts set out to add the hate crimes measure to the big defense policy bill now moving through the Senate. It is consistent, Kennedy said, with the ideals U.S. troops are fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan:

"They are on the front lines fighting against hate," Kennedy said. "We're united in our effort to root out the cells of hatred around the world. We should not turn a blind eye to acts of hatred and terrorism here at home. We owe it to our troops to uphold those same principles here at home."

Bill Focuses on Anti-Gay Crimes

The hate crimes bill is named after Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who was found beaten to death nine years ago.

Oregon's Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, who is a co-sponsor, showed his colleagues a large photo of another victim — a sailor who had been beaten almost beyond recognition by fellow U.S. Navy shipmates.

"The United States military is not immune from hate crimes," Smith said. "It is utterly, entirely appropriate that this be on the defense authorization bill.

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas maintained the measure has nothing to do with the defense authorization bill. He argued that crimes should not be considered more or less despicable because of the victim's identity.

"All crimes of violence are crimes of hate," said Cornyn, a strong ally of the White House. "All ought to be judged according to the same criteria. All ought to be subject to the same range of punishments, given to juries able to convict people based on evidence produced in court (and) not based on (the) politically correct notion that some crimes are more heinous than others."

Opponents Say Measures Imperils Military Spending

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham insisted that measures the military needs could be in peril if the hate crimes provision becomes part of the defense authorization bill. He predicted the president would not agree to including social legislation on the defense authorization bill, which would jeopardize the needs of the military.

Still, nine Republican senators voted with every Democrat and both of the independents — supplying the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. The hate crimes measure was then added to the defense bill unanimously by voice vote.

The Senate's defense bill must still be reconciled with the House version. The House approved a stand alone hate crimes bill in May.

If the hate crimes provision remains in the final version of the bill that goes to the White House, it will pose a momentous choice for a president eager to secure another year of defense spending.