WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans would like to remove legislation that would expand federal civil rights law to cover homosexuals from a larger bill, but Democrats say they'll fight to keep it in.
"Hate crimes are modern-day lynchings," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said Wednesday. "Congress has a responsibility to act this year."
Senate Democrats succeeded in July in adding the measure to a spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. The House version of the bill does not include the gay rights measure.
Republican leaders now want the issue removed, said John Czwartacki, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Opponents have said the measure would discriminate by creating special classes of victims such as gays, would usurp states' rights and would have a "chilling effect" on free speech.
"What crime isn't a hate crime?" Czwartacki said. "It's offensive to any family who's a victim of a crime to say that their crime is somehow less hurtful."
The measure would add acts of hatred motivated by sexual orientation, gender and disability to the list of hate crimes already covered by federal law _ acts sparked by prejudice based on race, religion, color or national origin. It would boost penalties for the crimes and allow federal prosecutors to step in if local authorities decide against prosecuting.
President Clinton repeated his call for passage of the bill, noting that Wednesday was the first anniversary of the beating death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college freshman.
"It's been year since the murder of Matthew Shepard and two years since I first proposed to strengthen the nation's hate crime law," Clinton said Wednesday. "The nation cannot afford to wait."