Today’s email from the Human Rights Campaign:
As I write this, I am filled with both deep disappointment and gratitude. I am disappointed because our fight for a hate crimes bill has been derailed, but grateful for the historic advances that we were able to achieve this year.
As you all know, we have made momentous advancements this year by moving the federal hate crimes legislation the closest it has ever been to becoming law. For the first time ever, in one year we were able to pass the fully-inclusive legislation through both chambers of Congress – a truly historic feat.
If you recall, the Matthew Shepard Act first passed the House of Representatives back in May as a stand-alone piece of legislation. It then moved to the Senate, where it passed 60 to 39 in September as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) attached the Matthew Shepard Act to the Department of Defense Authorization bill because President Bush had announced that he would veto a free-standing hate crimes bill. By amending hate crimes to this larger bill, Senators Kennedy and Smith thought that we had a better chance of getting the president’s signature. After all, Bush would have to veto the entire piece of legislation – hate crimes AND programs for his war in Iraq – to reject hate crimes protections.
But in a frustrating move yesterday, during the very last legislative step – a conference committee working out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill – we received word that the Matthew Shepard Act would be dropped from the final version of the bill. The hate crimes veto threat issued by the White House and organized opposition by House Republican Leadership cost significant numbers of votes on the right. Iraq-related provisions, which many progressive Democrats opposed, cost votes on the left. Moderate Democrats, many of whom voted for the hate crimes bill in May, did not want to test the President’s veto threat and risk a delay in increased pay for military personnel. All of these factors resulted in insufficient votes to secure passage of the bill with the hate crimes provision.
HRC coordinated a major final push to protect this bill. 40,000 HRC activists responded to our call and wrote to Congress. We helped organize a coalition effort with 120 national and local organizations. We held 11th-hour meetings with lawmakers.
Despite the anger we all feel that we fell short so close to the finish line, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we did succeed in moving hate crimes legislation the closest it has ever been to hitting the President’s desk for signature. And rest assured, the Human Rights Campaign is not done fighting. We are not giving up on efforts to find another legislative vehicle, in the second half of this Congress, to move the Matthew Shepard Act. Yes, we made historic advancements, but we will not be satisfied until we get a President who will use his or her pen to enshrine into our federal law books that violence against the GLBT community will not be tolerated in this country.
We have been a leader in the fight for hate crimes legislation for over a decade, and we’re not about to let this setback deter us. We will not rest until these protections are law.
We also can’t lose track of the bigger picture for 2008. On top of working to advance this bill and the rest of our equality agenda, we are already mobilizing around the 2008 elections. We are investing major resources to:
These are the moments when your support counts most. Together, we’ll find the right path to victory. We know it is there.