October 22nd, 2009
05:46 PM ET
10 years ago

Hate crimes measure heads to president's desk

Hate crimes measure heads to president's desk after Senate approval.

Hate crimes measure heads to president's desk after Senate approval.

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.


Filed under: President Obama • Senate
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. GI Joe

    Most of the conservatives out there spew nothing but unadulterated hate. Time to get rid of GOP.

    October 22, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  2. malclave

    You don't give the bill number here... is this the bill that potentially criminalizes any speech based on the *perception* of sexual preference?

    If so, I'm looking forward to reporting any references of Tea Partiers as "teabaggers" to the FBI, as that would clearly be a hate crime.

    October 22, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  3. S Callahan

    These are scary days we live in.....I understand the intent of the Hate Crimes bill is to stop assults...which any person should oppose but there is a great concern of it's future use and rightly so. President Obama may be signing a bill with no concept of the future remifications....which are great.....people laugh at the Bible...but if you were to honestly read it you would see all this was foretold.....the weapon to oppose lies in the prayers of it's people. God help us all.

    October 22, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  4. Jim in San Jose

    At long last. Congress finally found some sense.

    October 22, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  5. Tine

    As long as this will not affect the rights of Christians to say and speak on their beliefs especially when they are in congregation, then it is okay. But if it does threatens the Christians, may God forgive those who passed this bill and abuse this bill.

    October 22, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  6. Paul

    As a gay man THANK YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA for keeping you word

    October 22, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  7. Centrist

    Thank you, Senators..

    God bless the US and all Americans!

    October 22, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  8. SC

    "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."

    Something is so wrong with this statement. First of all, look at the word "religious." If you are "religious" enough, you should be able to tolerate a lot of things. Some conservatives are just using the word "religious" to advanced their causes or promote their ideology. In fact, those are the very people with the most hatred I've ever seen.

    Look at another one, "conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality." I got a question for those conservatives. Are these only subjects that you can talk about or know how to talk about? If you are afraid of getting criminalized for talking about these subjects, go find something else to talk about. This is Democrats' time to rule. Suck it up!

    October 22, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  9. Albert

    Washington's bank pay crackdown is Socialism.

    Bail out of AIG and Wall Street is not Socialism.

    October 22, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  10. slp

    I have noticed that those who scream the most about tolerance are usually the most intolerant. SC, let me respond to your stupid assumption that Christians should be tolerant. As christians, we believe that God is holy. As a holy God, he can't abide sin. He can't be in the presence of sin. Abortion and homosexuality are sin. Therefore, God is not tolerant of either. He continues to love those who have abortions and live in homosexuality and will forgive them if they truly repent. As christians, we are called to love all of our fellow human beings but we are also called to flee from evil. So therefore, don't tell me that I have to tolerate homosexuality and abortion. I do not condone the killing and beating up of homosexuals and abortion doctors. Murder is just as much of a sin. I do not, however, have to allow my children to be exposed to it or teach them to be tolerant of it. I would suggest that you pick up a bible and read it before you start spewing your nonsense.

    October 22, 2009 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  11. ThinkAgain

    Christians, like all Americans, are free to practice their religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

    This laws says that if that speech incites others to violence, then those speaking are criminally responsible.

    If being unable to spew hatred and intolerance somehow inhibits a person from being "Christian," then I emphatically say they are NOT Christian – they are just another religious zealot using their faith to excuse their bad behavior and pathetic limitations as a human being.

    October 22, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  12. Gerry

    I thought that if you hurt someone on purpose it was because you hated them. Do we need another law when we have a law that covers this.

    By the way GI JOE it sounds as if you would like to perform a hate crime against the GOP.

    October 22, 2009 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  13. Stacie

    It is very sad that the so-called Christians here are more concerned about their "right" to continue to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation instead of being concerned about violent acts against a person based on who they are. I firmly believe Jesus would be more concerned about those who are assaulted and murdered like Matthew Sheppard.

    By the way, you can all relax...unless the members of your church plans on beating a gay man while hurling slurs at him, this bill doesn't apply to you.

    October 22, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  14. REP

    Isn't ALL crime about hate? Will the sentences be more harsh for targeting a gay person? How is this EQUAL rights? When a group is asking for and receiving exceptional treatment there simply is no equality. So my life as a straight woman, if victimized, is worth less in the eyes of the justice system than my gay brother? The perp gets a greater sentence? How is that equal and why do GLBT folks think it is? My gay brother from Texas gets it – why don't most of you? And so many of you whine about why there is so much resentment toward you as a group? Grow up, grow a skin and live equal lives like the rest of us are trying to do every day!

    October 22, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  15. Useyourbrain!!

    Seems like the "good christians" may be getting a little concerned that someone might question their hatred ways . Maybe the "good christians" should consider "changing their ways". Perhaps try to "love thy neighbor" instead of "hate" thy neighbor: and "all men are created equal" and make sure your own house is clean before you try to clean someone else's. It truly amazes me how many people go to church everytime is door is open, tithe 10%, pray in public so they can be heard, then, as soon as they leave the church all they do is spread hate. I saw this when I was 13 years old and that is when I quit going to church. I am now 70.
    God and I have a lot of conversations, but not in public. And I don't interfere in my neighbors way of life and as long as it has no bearing on mine.

    October 22, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  16. Congrats Congress--Smart Move

    Well, it's a great day. That poor child, Mathew Shepherd did not want to die, and had everything to live for. He was mercilessly beaten because he was gay.

    That was sad, but today we have reason to take a moment and give thanks for sensible Congress members who would like to right a wrong. Perhaps his death will not be in vain.

    October 22, 2009 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  17. Jesse in Madison

    Thank you to the Senate and President Obama!

    Gays and lesbians all over our diverse nation are celebrating today!

    October 22, 2009 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  18. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Thank God, hate criminals will face imprisonment for life as deserved.

    October 22, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  19. Maria

    I have no respect for those who cannot even express their thoughts using proper grammar and spelling.

    October 22, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  20. cheers!!

    It's about time something was done about this growing problem. With all the people complaining about more troops, why isn't anyone smart enough to call a reverse don't ask don't tell for more troops? I feel like there are thousands of people willing to serve in the military if they feel as though they weren't treated like second class citizens. No one wants to fight for a country that doesn't acknowledge them.

    October 22, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  21. ben

    It is about time Congress acted on hate crimes against gays!!! We gays are not just some group that came out of nowhere. we are real people, just like the rest of you are. it is time we are treated that same as you, too.

    October 22, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  22. DJ

    So are we suppose to be kind to the criminals that assault people ? The GOP wants to resort to cheap gimmicks to rally their lunatic base and get people distracted on yet another wedge issue.

    October 22, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  23. theresapenni

    as a lesbian ... Thank you Congress for moving forward with this bill and getting it to the President's desk.

    As a Christian ... "and they'll know we are Christians by who we can hate/speak out against/marginalize"? That's not the way I remember hearing that song when I was a kid. And that's not the Christians that I know today.

    October 22, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  24. GuyInVA

    Do you think we'll see a Jesse Dirkhising law next? Never heard of him? Most people haven't. Even though it occurred less than one year after Matthew Shepherd's death, Jesse's murder wasn't newsworthy because he was not a member of any protected class. He was granted no special privileges based on his race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. He was kidnapped, bound with duct taped, gagged with his own underwear, and repeatedly sodomized until he finally suffocated. Did I mention he was only 13 years old? It doesn't matter though. He was just a garden variety kid. His murderers were a gay couple. They had to be protected by the media and the politicians. God forbid the oppressive straight masses use them to stereotype homosexuals.

    My point is that hate crime is just thought crime. Criminalizing emotion. Jesse Dirkhising's murder was no less brutal, heinous, or tragic than Matthew Shepherd's. However Jesse is forgotten. So, who are the bigots in all of this?

    October 22, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  25. Ben

    You control your ideas. Being ridiculed or shunned for your ideas is not a hate crime since it is something you control, not something you cannot such as the color of your skin or sexual preference.

    So all you conservatives thinking its hypocritical these protections don't extend to you are grade-A idiots.

    October 22, 2009 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
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