WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Senate on Thursday passed groundbreaking legislation that would make it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
The expanded federal hate crimes law now goes to President Barack Obama's desk. Obama has pledged to sign the measure, which was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill.
The measure is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998.
Several religious groups have expressed concern that a hate-crimes law could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality.
Attorney General Eric Holder has asserted that any federal hate-crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.
Thursday's Senate vote approving the measure was 68-29.
Former President George W. Bush had threatened to veto a similar measure, but Obama brought a reversal of that policy to the White House.
Earlier this month, Obama told the country's largest gay rights group that the nation still needs to make significant changes to ensure equal rights for gays and lesbians.
"Despite the progress we've made, there are still laws to change and hearts to open," he said during his address at the dinner for the Human Rights Campaign. "This fight continues now and I'm here with the simple message: I'm here with you in that fight."
Among other things, Obama has called for the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military - the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He also has urged Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and pass the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act.
The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage, for federal purposes, as a legal union between a man and a woman. It allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. The Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act would extend family benefits now available to heterosexual federal employees to gay and lesbian federal workers.
More than 77,000 hate-crime incidents were reported by the FBI between 1998 and 2007, or "nearly one hate crime for every hour of every day over the span of a decade," Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June.
–CNN's Dana Bash and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this story.
Good! now we can throw obama and the libs in jail for hating america
Right wingers are so full of fear and hatred that they cannot even realize how their behavior is in direct opposition to the lessons of the Bible. How could a law protecting people from violence be potentially damaging to Christians? Perhaps because those complaining are not really followers of Christ, the definition of Christians.
How can anyone even be a Christian?
Disappointing that some conservative religious groups continue to preach intolerance an hate. This is not a free speech isssue. Inciting murder, mayhem, or violence is not protected under the right to free speech.
To everyone who is afraid of a hate crime bill. We already have bills protecting you against crimes against you for you sex race disability or RELIGION. Its just about equal treatment
All crimes are hate crimes. This is pure pandering.
Jesus preached Love for all. The only time he showed any anger was what was going on in the Temple. He never preached against gays, abortion(you bet they had it then,just as now),He never preached hate even at the Romans. So where is all this Christian hate coming from? If you as a christian are so hateful over these things then you are very much off the mark as a true christian. Hate and Fear seem to be the hallmarks of the christian right,and the far liberal left. It's a shame that as a Christian nation we even need to have a bill such as this. Look deep into yourselves and find the Love that is from God and stop this hate. Or join another religion.
If this doesn't pass then I can't help but think this country doesn't really deserve this man. Obama is so ahead of our time. He sees where the future will go and his core is good. Wake up, selfish, ignorant American idiots!!!!!!
After only 100+ years real hate crimes legislation...
Will this cover the violent act of killing babies that are still in the womb? Oh right, they don't count.
Thank you Mr. President. However, where is the part that says its also illegal to attack or commit a crime on someone because of their race?
Geee........the Religous kooks who seem intent on tearing apart this Country are worried they won't be able to Vomit their Vile, Hateful, Prejudiced speech and continue to poisen their childrens minds with the same..........All this despite the law being aimed at violent acts, not vile speech.
They really need to pray there is NO Jesus, for if there were, he'd smite them where they stand. They're not Christians, let alone Americans.
It is about time that Congress does something worthwhile than to sit and bicker back and forth. Great job!
I think that GOP doesn't stand for Grand Old Party anymore. Seems these days all it means is Grumpy Old Poops...