Senate extends hate-crime protections

The Senate voted late Thursday night to extend federal hate-crimes protections to people attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender.

In a 62-38 vote, the Senate added the provision to a defense authorization bill that the Senate will continue to debate next week.

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Five Republican senators joined Democrats in supporting the bill: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Every Democrat voted in favor of the provision with the exceptions of ailing Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.), who were both absent.

The House has already approved similar legislation and President Obama has offered his support.

Hate-crimes protections are now provided only to victims of crime who are attacked because of their race, color, religion or national origin.

Liberal groups praised the Senate action.

“Although there is still much to be done on the road to achieving equality, we can take heart in the fundamental change in tone this common-ground bill has evoked,” said Rachel Laser, the culture program director at Third Way.

Opponents of the legislation said it was wrong to single out victims of crime based on their backgrounds.

“Justice is blind, and under the rule of law justice must be blind — blind to the superficial circumstances of the victims and the defendants,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said during the debate.

He called the measures “offensive” because it is based on the premise that “violence committed against certain kinds of victims is worse and more in need of federal intervention and swift justice than if it were committed against someone else.”