Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bi-Partisan Congressional Coalition Passes Hate Crimes Bill; Hoosier GOP Members Just Say No

The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives today approved a bi-partisan amendment which would strengthen federal hate crimes legislation to include crimes committed because of a person's sexual orientation or sexual identity. The amendment to the Children's Safety Act legislation was offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and co-sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) among others. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 223-199, with 30 Republicans joining 193 Democrats in supporting the measure. Sadly, every single Republican member of Congress from Indiana voted against the amendment; Democrats Julia Carson and Pete Visclosky voted in favor of the amendment. Republicans voting against the amendment included Indiana's Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Chris Chocola, Mike Pence, John Hostettler, Mike Sodrel and Mark Souter.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act embodied in the amendment approved today gives law enforcement the tools they need to enforce and prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans according to the Human Rights Campaign. Current federal law allows prosection for hate crimes based on race, religion, and national origin. Locally, Republican Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has announced he will ask the Indiana General Assembly to support a proposal he intends to offer to adopt a state hate crimes law that covers a person's race, religion, sexual orientation and other bias motivations. According to statistics compiled by the Indiana State Police, 67 bias-motivated crimes were committed during 2004, a quarter of which were based on a person's sexual orientation. The percentage of hate crimes committed based on a person's sexual orientation is considerably higher in Indiana than the national average, which is 16.5%.

Once again, Indiana Republicans are turning their backs on the tradition of the Party of Lincoln in supporting civil rights for all Americans. The Indiana Republican Party should hold its head in shame that not a single member of its congressional delegation is willing to support a measure which could be interpreted as supporting gay civil rights. All of these members never miss an opportunity to sound tough on crime, but when it comes to cracking down on people who commit hate crimes because of a person's sexual orientation or sexual identity, they are nowhere to be found. The message they are sending with their votes is troubling to say the least.

Indiana's Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who has a less than stellar record on gay civil rights, has at least supported hate crimes measures like the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the past to avoid complete alienation from the GLBT community. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Senator Richard Lugar and Indiana Republican Party Chairman James Kittle need to have a serious discussion with its congressional delegation concerning the message of intolerance and bigotry these House members are projecting to Indiana's GLBT community by continuing to vote in lock-step against any measure which might be perceived as being pro-gay, lest it continue to be haunted by its embarrassing past association with the Ku Klux Klan.

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