- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy yesterday introduced legislation to protect homosexuals under federal hate-crimes laws, attaching it to the defense authorization bill in a bid to make it difficult for President Bush to veto it as promised.

“The president has threatened to veto this legislation, but we can’t let that threat stop us from doing the right thing,” said Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, adding that hate crimes are a form of domestic terrorism.

“We’re united in our effort to root out the cells of hatred around the world,” he said on the Senate floor. “We should not turn a blind eye to acts of hatred and terrorism here at home. We should not shrink now from our role as the beacon of liberty to the rest of the world.”

The bill, named the Matthew Shepard Act after the homosexual 21-year-old University of Wyoming student beaten to death in 1998, would lower the threshold for victims to prove a crime was motivated by bias and it would add to the law crimes targeting a victim because of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The law currently covers crimes based on race, religion and ethnicity.

The Kennedy amendment also provides $5 million over the next two years to fund state and local efforts to investigate, identify and prosecute hate crimes.

Religious leaders have opposed the bill because, they say, it makes preaching against homosexuality a crime.

Supporters say the legislation penalizes violent acts, not speech.

Mr. Kennedy cited broad support that included the Anti-Defamation League, the Interfaith Alliance, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National District Attorneys Association.

Republicans criticized the bill for muddling a defense bill already stymied by a series of failed Democratic amendments to end the war in Iraq.

“Our colleagues are playing games with this bill,” said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. “We should be focusing on defense-related amendments — amendments that will make our troops safer and our national defense stronger — and finishing this bill.”

But he said he was relieved that the hate-crime legislation appeared to signal that Democrats’ for now had stopped using the defense bill to challenge the war policy.

A vote on the amendment could come as soon as tomorrow.

The House passed a similar hate-crimes bill May 3 on a 237-180 vote, far short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

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