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