Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
announced Tuesday that he'll bring a bill that would add disability,
gender and sexual orientation to the list of hate crime protections
to a vote in the Senate this week.
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes
Prevention Act (S909) is named after Matthew Shepard, a student at
the University of Wyoming who was killed in 1998 by two men he met in
a gay bar. He was beaten and left to die shackled to a post along a
rural road near Laramie.
Reid, appearing in a news conference
with Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy Shepard, said he'll bring the
legislation to a vote in the Senate this week.
“This week, we'll bring to the floor
the Matthew Shepard hate crime legislation, so named in the honor of
Judy Shepard's son,” he said.
“Judy Shepard has shown incredible
strength, leadership and dedication to bringing justice to America
and to her son. She and many others who have suffered taught us that
we cannot be afraid to call these crimes what they – hate crimes,”
Lawmakers in the House approved similar
legislation in April and President Obama has said he will sign the
Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy is
the sponsor of the Senate measure. It has attracted 45 co-sponsors,
according to the Library of Congress, less than the 60 votes needed
to end debate on a bill and fewer than the 50 votes needed for
The New York Times reported
Monday that Senate Democrats will introduce the bill as an amendment
to the annual defense authorization bill in an effort to increase its
chances of passage.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from
Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the
“The hate crimes amendment would
improve existing law by making it easier for federal authorities to
investigate and prosecute crimes of racial, ethnic, or religious
violence,” Leahy said in a statement. “Victims will no longer
have to engage in a narrow range of activities, such as serving as a
juror, to be protected under Federal law. It also focuses the
attention and resources of the Federal government on the problem of
crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation,
gender, gender identity, or disability, which is a long-overdue
protection. In addition, the hate crimes amendment will provide
assistance and resources to state, local, and tribal law enforcement
to address hate crimes.”
Opponents call the law unnecessary.
During debate on the House version, Representative Virginia Foxx, a
Republican from North Carolina, denied Matthew Shepard died from a
hate crime, calling his martyrdom a hoax.
“The bill was named after a very
unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but
we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery.
It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate
crimes bill was named for him, but it's … really a hoax, that that
continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”
Passage of hate crimes legislation is a
top priority of gay rights advocates.