A hate crimes bill in South Carolina has been amended to exclude protections for LGBTQ people, after a Republican leader said that including them would risk losing support from his party.
On Thursday a House subcommittee passed an amendment that removed sexual orientation and gender as protected classes, as well as creed, age and ancestry in a bill designed to enhance penalties to hate crimes.
The measure now includes only six protected groups, which are already included in federal law: race, color, religion, sex, national origin and physical or mental disability.
According to The Post and Courier, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chris Murphy, a North Charleston Republican, proposed the amendment saying that he’d heard concerns from fellow House members who felt that House Bill 3620 was being too expansive.
“The goal here is to get a bill that we’re going to be able to pass, not only in judiciary, but in the House as well,” he said.
Only three U.S. states currently have no hate crimes law: South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming.
Bill 3620, which would allow harsher penalties for hate-motivated crimes is one of the key legislative goals for big businesses in the state this year.
On Tuesday, a number of business leaders testified in favor of the bill, as it was originally written, in a hearing.
Others in favor of the bill said that the proposal is long overdue. It has been nearly six years since a 22-year-old self-declared white supremacist fatally shot nine black church member during a Bible study session at a church in Charleston.
But the decision to no longer include LGBTQ protections stunned local activists.
The regional office of the Anti-Defamation League was appalled by the vote “to strip out protections for the categories sexual orientation and gender from HB 3620, which ADL had previously supported,” Dr. Allison Padilla-Goodman, the vice president of ADL’s Southern Division, said in a statement.
“Hate crimes targeting South Carolinians because of their sexual orientation or gender would be invisible under State law,” she said, adding that the amended version would “jeopardize the safety of some of the State’s most vulnerable populations” and damage the state’s reputation.
Chase Glenn, the executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, wrote on Twitter that it was a “sad day.”
“The FBI has stated that hate crimes against LGBTQ people are on the rise and if we can’t count on our representatives to pass a hate crimes bill that actually includes one of the communities most impacted by hate-motivated crimes, then what’s the point of the bill?” he said, according to The Associated Press. “We cannot play politics when the lives of LGBTQ people are at stake.”
Bill sponsor Beth Bernstein, a Democrat from Columbia, said that decision was “disappointing,” but added that it could still require the South Carolina Supreme Court to agree to the broader definition.
The measure will now move to the full House judiciary committee, before potentially heading to the House floor.