Despite concerns from conservative groups, the U.S. Senate Thursday overwhelmingly passed landmark legislation that would make it a federal crime to assault someone because of his or her sexual orientation.
In its 68-29 vote, the Senate ignored right-wing contentions that the hate-crime bill was merely an effort by liberals to stymie criticism about abortion, homosexuality and inappropriate sexual behavior. Attorney General Eric Holder described the measure as "a milestone in helping protect Americans from the most heinous bias-motivated violence." The law would not be used to squash speech about controversial beliefs. "The passage of this legislation will give the Justice Department and our state and local law enforcement partners the tools we need to deter and prosecute these acts of violence," he said in a statement.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, "Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country."
While President Bush had threatened to veto such a measure, President Obama has has promised to sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and an African-American man dragged to death in Texas the same year. The bill was added to the $680 billion defense authorization bill.
"Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile," said Judy Shepard, board president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation named for her son. "Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families."