President Obama made a major mark in civil rights history Wednesday, signing a defense bill that included a law making it a federal crime to attack people based on their sexual orientation.
While the bill extinguished several costly weapons projects and broadened certain war initiatives, it is the civil rights language that drew the most attention from some human rights advocates. It also caused many conservative and religious groups to accuse the Obama administration of devaluing American family values. Such a measure, critics argued, sends the signal that the United States endorses a homosexual lifestyle, which they contend is against God’s law.
President Barack Obama had promised to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, even though it did not slash as much fiscal waste as he had hoped, mainly because of its provisions for expanding hate crimes law. The act covers violence based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Democratic supporters of the measure affixed it to the defense bill, despite strong objections of Republicans, because they knew the GOP would ensure that the defense bill made it into law.
The bill halts production of the F-22 fighter jet program, among other items and programs deemed antiquated in a post-Cold-War era. It also nixed the replacement helicopter program for the president's own fleet, which is six years behind schedule and whose estimated costs have doubled to more than $13 billion. However, the bill still contains provisions — over the president's strong objections — to develop a costly alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Air Force's fighter of the future.
"When Secretary Gates and I first proposed going after some of these wasteful projects, there were a lot of people who didn't think it was possible, who were certain we were going to lose, who were certain that we were going to get steamrolled," Obama said. "Today, we have proven them wrong."
"There's still more fights that we need to win," Obama said. "Changing the culture in Washington will take time and sustained effort." From now on, Obama said, people will be protected from violence based on "what they look like, who they love, how they pray or why they are."