The U.S. Senate has approved a
gay-inclusive hate crimes bill that President Obama has promised to
Senators voted mostly along party lines
68 to 29 in favor of expanding hate crimes legislation to include
sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill was tucked inside a
must-pass defense bill, a move that rankled some Republicans.
House members approved the bill by an
overwhelming majority on October 8.
In a speech to gay rights group the
Human Rights Campaign (HRC), President Obama renewed his support for
“After more than a decade, this bill
is set to pass and I will sign it into law,” he told a cheering
HRC President Joe Solmonese wasted no
time in praising the Senate.
“We're in the home stretch,”
Solmonese said in a statement. “This critical piece of legislation
is on its way to the president's desk for his signature. We look
forward to President Obama signing it into law; our nation's first
major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender people. Too many in our community have been
devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to
erasing hate in our country.”
The bill is named for Matthew Shepard,
a student at the University of Wyoming who was killed in 1998 by two
men he met in a gay bar, and James Byrd Jr., a black man dragged to
death behind a pickup tuck in Texas in 1998. Shepard was beaten and
left to die shackled to a post along a rural road near Laramie. Judy
Shepard devoted herself to passage of the bill named after her son.
Republicans said they objected to the
process Democrats used to approve the legislation.
Arizona Senator John McCain called the
inclusion of hate crimes in the defense bill an “abuse of the
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.”
Social conservatives also opposed the
measure. They argued hate crimes laws have a chilling effect on free
speech and restrict religious liberties, despite the law's included
First Amendment protections.