The U.S. Senate voted Thursday in favor of ending debate on a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill and hold a final vote. Final passage is expected as early as Thursday evening. The legislation is tucked inside a must-pass defense bill, a move that rankled some Republicans.

Senators voted in favor of the 2010 defense authorization bill with a 64-to-35 vote.

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.

Earlier in the month, members of the House of Representatives approved the legislation with overwhelming support.

The president devoted a good amount of an early October speech before gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on the subject of hate crimes.

“In May, I met with Judy Shepard – who's here tonight with her husband – I met her in the Oval Office, and I promised her that we were going to pass an inclusive hate crimes bill – a bill named for her son,” he said.

“This struggle has been long. Time and again we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. But the Shepards never gave up. They turned tragedy into an unshakable commitment. Countless activists and organizations never gave up. You held vigils, you spoke out, year after year, Congress after Congress. The House passed the bill again this week. And I can announce that after more than a decade, this bill is set to pass and I will sign it into law.”

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. The House passed a similar bill in 2007, but the bill sank in the Senate under the weight of a veto threat from President George Bush.

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

Arizona Senator John McCain called the inclusion an “abuse of the Senate process.”

“A defense authorization bill is not the appropriate vehicle for consideration of hate crimes legislation,” he said on the Senate floor.

In a statement, the senior senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, said the opposed the legislation because it goes “too far.”

“I voted against the Defense bill because the Democratic majority attached something which has nothing to do with defense: an expansion of hate crime rules,” he said. “I support providing states and local authorities with federal assistance to enforce their own laws, but the changes in this legislation go too far.”