The Senate approved groundbreaking hate crimes legislation that includes violent crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation in addition to race, color, religion and national origin. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after two men who were brutally killed in 1998 for their sexual orientation and race, respectively, was attached to a defense spending bill that allocates $680 billion for the Pentagon’s 2010 budget.
"Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a press release. "We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country."
But the issue was much more complex for senators. Though "supporting the troops" generally takes precedence for Republicans, 28 voted against the DOD budget, which includes a 3.4 percent military pay raise and funding to promote a second engine for the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
"It's a shame that this piece of legislation was added to a bill that’s supposed to be about supporting our troops," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who opposed the measure.
In another surprising move, liberal Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill. In a statement, Feingold said that despite the bill's "important provisions," which include the hate crimes legislation, "it does nothing to bring our open-ended and disproportionate military commitment in Afghanistan to an end or to ensure that our troops are safely and expeditiously redeployed from Iraq."
To sum up: a measure protecting gay people from violent crime was enough to cause Republicans to pull their typically solid support for the troops and cause most Democrats to approve the bloated war funding they opposed vociferously during the Bush years.