Four gay bills may await new Congress

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Three key gay bills currently before Congress — the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — are likely to die when the current session ends, leaving it up to the new Congress to take them up.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act was named for the 21-year-old college student who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. It would have added sexual orientation to the list of categories covered under federal hate crime law.

The bill passed the House in 2007 and the White House threatened to veto it. In an effort to get around a veto, the Senate version was tied to the 2008 defense authorization bill. It passed, but then went to conference, where it was stripped out.

Last month, the FBI released statistics showing that hate crimes in general had dropped across the country except for those against LGBT people. The bureau report showed a 6 percent increase in anti-gay hate crimes.

If the Shepard Act is passed, it would allow federal charges to be pressed in hate crimes against gays and give judges the power to impose tougher sentences.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, also passed the House in 2007, but without protections for the transgendered.

The legislation would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee.

When ENDA returns, it is likely to include gender identity protections.

ENDA, originally introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), included transpeople, but Frank removed those protections in committee saying it would be impossible to pass.

Legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the ban on gays serving openly in the military was taken up in committee this year for the first time, but did not make it to a vote.

It also is widely expected that legislation will be introduced to repeal the so-called federal Defense of Marriage law that forbids the federal government from recognizing any form of gay union – marriage, civil union or domestic partnership. President-elect Barack Obama has said he would sign such a repeal, although no Democrat has so far said such a bill would be brought in.

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