president barack obama signed a law making it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her gender identity or sexual orientation. hailed by supporters as the first major federal gay rights legislation, the expanded federal hate-crimes law was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill signed by obama at a packed white house ceremony.
the matthew shepard and james byrd, jr. hate crimes prevention act was named for matthew shepard, a gay wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in october 1998, and james byrd, jr., an african-american man dragged to death by a group of young white males in texas the same year. the appropriations bill signing was attended by shepard's mother, judy, as well as vice president joe biden, attorney general eric holder, defense secretary robert gates and other leading members of congress.
obama cited the work of the late massachusetts senator edward kennedy and others "to make this day possible." to loud applause, obama hailed the hate crimes measure in the bill as a step toward change to "help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love and how they pray." later that day, wednesday october 28, obama stood with shepard's parents and relatives of byrd, jr. at a separate white house event honoring passage of the expanded hate-crimes law.
noting reports of 12,000 crimes in the last decade based on sexual orientation, obama called the historic bill another step in the continuing struggle for human rights. obama said, "because of the efforts of the folks in this room, particularly those family members standing behind me, the bell rings even louder now." upon finishing his remarks he hugged the weeping relatives as the audience applauded.
several religious groups are concerned a hate crimes bill could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects like abortion or homosexuality. however, holder said any federal hate-crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, not to prosecute speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs. former president george w. bush threatened to veto a similar measure but obama brought a reversal of that policy to the white house.
when the bill won final congressional approval last week, human rights campaign (hrc) president joe solmonese called the hate-crimes measure "our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." earlier this month, obama told the hrc - the nation's largest gay rights group - our nation still needs to make significant changes to ensure equal rights for gays and lesbians. while addressing the group at their annual dinner, obama said, "despite the progress we've made, there are still laws to change and hearts to open...this fight continues now and i'm here with you in that fight."
among other related initiatives, obama has called for the repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' ban on gays serving openly in the military, a policy hotly debated by both obama and biden during the 2008 presidential campaign. obama has also urged congress to repeal the defense of marriage act and pass the domestic partners benefit and obligations act. the defense of marriage act defines marriage, for federal purposes, as a legal union between a man and a woman. the act allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. the domestic partners benefit and obligations act would extend family benefits now available to heterosexual federal employees to gay and lesbian workers.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.