WASHINGTON – The world's largest gay outreach ministry denounced the House's approval of legislation that some feel could ultimately strip away the right of Christians to express a biblical view on homosexuality.
The House voted Thursday to expand federal hate crime categories to include violent attacks against gays and people targeted because of gender, acting just hours after the White House threatened to veto the bill – H.R. 1592.
Randy Thomas, Executive Vice President for Exodus International, said it was "a sad day for those who esteem equality in America."
"This legislation assigns special protections to certain groups and less to others," noted the ministry leader, in a statement released by the group. "As former homosexuals, we are now considered less deserving of legal protection than when we were living as homosexuals. The proposed law stands in direct opposition to the truth that every citizen is of equal value and should be afforded the same protections under law."
While supporters of the bill say it is necessary for added protections against hate crimes and claim that it does not impinge on public speech or writing in anyway, social conservatives say the bill threatens the right to express moral opposition to homosexuality and singles out groups of citizens for special protection.
"This legislation strikes at the heart of free speech and freedom of religious expression," said Traditional Values Coalition Executive Director Andrea Lafferty, in a released statement. "Why? Because statements critical of sexual orientation or gender identity can be prosecuted – if those statements were part of the motivation of a person committing a crime against a homosexual or cross-dresser.
"If a pastor, for example, speaks out against homosexuality and a church member commits a violent crime against a homosexual, the pastor's sermon can be considered as an inducement to the crime! Pastor's sermons can be considered hate speech under this bill."
The White House, in a statement, further argued that state and local criminal laws already cover the new crimes defined under the bill and there was "no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement."
"If H.R. 1592 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill," added the statement released Thursday, before the House passed the bill.
As the legislation makes its way to the Senate, conservatives are urging people around the nation to voice their opposition to their senators.
"I strongly encourage people to let their Senators know to vote against this unconstitutional legislation and encourage President Bush to follow through with the White House statement issued today and veto any such measure should it reach his desk," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, in a statement released Thursday.
Other faith-based conservative groups, including Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, have also expressed strong opposition to the legislation.
H.R. 1592 – the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act – was introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). It passed 237 to 180, mostly along party lines: 212 Democrats voted in favor, along with 25 Republicans; 166 Republicans voted against, joined by 14 Democrats.
The bill did not pass with enough votes to override a veto.