The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of adding disability, gender and sexual orientation to the list of hate crime protections over Republican objections that it was tucked inside a defense bill, The New York Times reported.

The legislation is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, 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.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, hailed the bill's passage.

“It is remarkable that, at this late date, hate crimes legislation should remain a controversial idea,” Nadler said in a statement. “The idea that someone could be singled out for a crime of violence due to his or her actual or perceived race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability is simply repugnant.”

The bill defines hate crimes as those motivated by prejudice against race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It would allow the Attorney General to assist cities and states in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Legislators passed a similar bill in 2007, but the bill sank under the weight of a veto threat from President George Bush. President Obama has urged legislators to approve the measure.

The measure is well supported in the Senate, where it's headed.

Republicans for the most part felt imposed on by Democrats who had attached the hate crimes provision to a must-pass defense authorization bill.

“We should not be doing social engineering on this bill,” Indiana Representative Dan Burton said on the floor, then chided Democrats with, “Shame on you.”

Representative Todd Akin of Missouri called the hate crimes provisions “a poison pill” and said he refused to be “blackmailed” into voting for it.

The debate's most contentious moments have come from lawmakers who argue the measure would have a chilling effect on free speech and restrict religious liberties, despite its included First Amendment protections.

During an April debate on the bill, 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,” Foxx said on the House floor. “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.”

Foxx later recanted a portion of her comments, saying, “The term 'hoax' was a poor choice of words used in the discussion of the hate crimes bill.”

Gay rights groups began lobbying for the legislation in 2003. According to, a website that tracks political contributions, proponents gave nearly $4 million to House members that approved the bill.

In the end, only 44 out of 131 Republicans supported the measure, while 15 Democrats opposed it.