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. Christian Values

    As a christian, this makes sense. If you are worried that you can't speak freely all of the sudden, then you must have one hateful pastor. I think it's embarrassing that some christians are so worried that they are in danger now that there is a law that makes it bad to hate. Last time I checked my teachings, christians weren't supposed to hate.

    Best I can tell you should have no reason to worry at all, that is if you are a TRUE christian, and not one of those posers who spends the other six days being a republican.

    October 22, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  2. redjellybean

    So I'm a little confused. The Purpose of the Bill is to provide protection for homosexuals against violent crimes, right? Were they not being protected under current laws? Aren't all violent crimes, in essence, "hate crimes"? Does this mean that if I were to get beat up tomorrow, there would be stricter punishments against the criminal simply if my sexual orientation were one way than it would be if it were another?

    Don't misunderstand me, please. I'm sincerely confused. There have been some horrible things done to homosexuals. Many have been horribly beaten or even murdered. But did the criminals in these cases escape punishment under the law? Now, if they criminals had escaped punishment because of the victim's sexual orientation, then I could understand why this legislation is necessary. But was that the case?

    So I guess to sum it all up, what is this new legislation offering that the current laws were not, in terms of protection against violent crimes?

    October 22, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  3. Arthur

    So what we'll end up with is stiffer penalties for assaulting anyone other than a heterosexual white male. As a member of this "category" I don't see much fairness in this law at all! Also, how in the world can you prove someone knew their victim was a member of a "protected" group?

    October 22, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  4. Joanna in PA

    These religious groups are free to speech anyway they wish. That is there right. Although it does say a lot about them, that they need to hate people that think and act differently than they do. I think the concern here is the actions people take because they hate so much and are so scared of what they do not understand and are unwilling to.They should change there tone. You can fight against things you do not like in a civil way that doesn't bring out violence. It's more Christ like anyway to be civil.

    October 22, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  5. m smith

    This is a good law. Sorry if our christian right worry. Then stop shooting people that don't support your ideas on abortion and stop carrying sighs that call people nazi's or worse and stop protesting out side schools that have a club for gays. Try a little love and kindness. Like Jesus. Remember him?? These are the nuts that think we have stopped putting In God We Trust on or money and send out all the stupid E mails.

    October 22, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  6. Objective Thinking

    I think homosexual and heterosexual people should be treated the same. This law would treat crimes against homosexuals as worse than crimes against heterosexuals, giving homosexuals preferential treatment.

    We should fight against bigotry and discrimination, but not by giving preferential treatment. Two wrongs don't make a right.

    October 22, 2009 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  7. nice Guy

    yes, Christians and other "religions" will still be able to spout their hate, they just won't be able to use their fists, bats and cars to hurt others anymore, without going to jail.

    October 22, 2009 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  8. James

    THANK YOU Mr. President!!! Thank you Congress for doing this!!!

    October 22, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  9. S.M.

    Wow! That was easy...the Matthew Shepard bill was stealthily slipped right in there without national discussion or the knowledge, agreement, or vote of most Americans...Now, re-explain to the American people the definition of a democracy vs. a dictatorship...

    October 22, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  10. AJ

    I guess we had alo better watch out! Now that we bigots can't beat gay men and women to death with impunity the gays are going to come and get us!

    BOO!!

    October 22, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    "is this the bill that potentially criminalizes any speech based on the *perception* of sexual preference?"

    THAT bill does not exist, nor is THAT bill what THIS bill is. Oppose THIS bill on grounds that are legitimately contained in THIS bill. Opposing THIS bill on grounds contained in a fictitious bill fabricated by the GOP is not a legitimate or meritorious argument.

    You are welcome to your hate. You are even welcome to speak your hate. You are not welcome to act on it in a criminal manner to the detriment of the stability and welfare of our society.

    October 22, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  12. I Can See Argentina from my Front Porch

    Religious groups are concerned????
    It seems to me, if they were so "religious" they would be concerned about innocent people (gays) getting assaulted.
    They do not have to condone anyone's alternative lifestyle, but they do not have to keep allowing gays to be victimized in this country.

    October 22, 2009 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  13. ICARE

    Fine! That needs to be in writings, otherwise, you'll have to burn down all the churches, mosques and places of worship.

    October 22, 2009 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  14. Peter s

    I may not hate you but I'm free to dislike certain behaviors with certain people!!!

    October 22, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  15. candy girl

    This Bill should have been passed along time ago!! Now the next one that needs to be put on the agenda for Congress and the House of Representatives is HOW TO DEAL WITH SEXUAL PREDATORS WHO ARE KILLING OUR PRECIOUS YOUNG CHILDREN!! I would strongly suggest that this bill have one main objective, and that being:
    FOR EVERY PREDATOR WHO TAKES THE LIFE OF A CHILD, HE/SHE SHALL AUTOMATICALLY RECEIVE THE DEATH PENALTY, AND BE CASTRATED IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!

    October 22, 2009 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  16. T in NV

    It is not about hate speech, it is about hate CRIME!!! Wake up people.

    Do we have Freedom of Speech? Yes. Can a pastor spew hate against gays? Yes. Will he be prosecuted for it under a Hate Crime once this is put into law? No.....unless he is beating a gay man while yelling "Die Homo"! Seriously, it is about CRIMES committed against a person BECAUSE they are gay. Not hate speech. It follows the same mold as the current hate crime bill that defines a hate crime as something committed based on a person's race, religion or national origin. Are pastors currently put in jail for spewing hate against other religions from the pulpit? NO!!!! Stop being so freaking stupid and listening to FAUX news. You religious people have protection under the Hate Crime bill but you want to deny a homosexual protection? Some Jesus followers just do not adhere to Jesus' teachings.

    October 22, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  17. Phat Elvis

    NO this does not limit Christians–other groups for that matter–right to HATE SPEECH. That Christians would engage in abhorrent attitudes towards gays really makes me wonder how "Christian" they really are. Yes, the bible says man cannot lie with man as he does with woman, but it also says love thy neighbor, it says Judgement is reserved for God only. in other words, ITS NOT YOUR PROBLEM. Those "Christians" that invoke the bible to denounce homosexuals use God to rationalize their own bigotry, and that is using the Lord's name in vain. isnt that a SIN?

    I am so glad this bill has been passed. what happened to that poor guy in Wyoming is so tragic. i cant imagine the pain his family felt when the learned how their son suffered before he died. This legislation is a triumph of Justice

    October 22, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  18. Sari

    This bill specifically criminalizes the domestic terrorism that has been in place against our LGBT citizens for many years by those who insist that our nation's freedom means "freedom to live as cookie-cutter people". It allows our freedom to flourish and thrive, by protecting the physical safety of our fellow Americans. Why would anyone be against this?

    October 22, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  19. slp

    Attorney Eric Holder said that it would only be used to prosecute violent acts based on bias as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial race or religious beliefs. How stupid does this guy think we are. Aren't acts of violence, no matter who they are committed against, prosecuted now? Why do we have to have a hate crime bill? This is nothing but the first step in stifling our right to speak out against things like abortion and homosexuality that many Americans are against.

    October 22, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  20. Lil Jimmy

    Hate crime laws are discriminatory. If a black man punches a white man it's assault. If a white man punches a black man its a hate crime. A gay man punches a straight man its assault. A straight man punches a gay man its a hate crime. While crimes that are done because of a persons race, sex, sexual preference or anything else that makes them so called "different" are bad , by making the crimes greater than those against people that aren't under a umbrella of protection is discriminatory.

    Murder is Murder, assault is assault. What happened to equal? I support gay marriage because I don't think it's fair to tell a group of people that they are different so different laws apply but why is it ok in reverse?

    October 22, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  21. Paul fom Kissimmee

    That's great! And it only cost us $680 billion from defense bill. When is he going to make a decision on the troops in Afghanistan? Is he still trying to vote present from the White House? This bill is a waste of time and money. Why does it matter if someone gay, straight, white, or black is murdered? I thought everybody wants equality. Is this the way to get it? Come on Obama. Make a real decision for a change.

    October 22, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  22. New Age Independent

    Soon everything will be a hate crime. Or perhaps we should treat everyone equal under the law and prosecute the crimes for what they are?

    October 22, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  23. Thank you from Wyoming on behalf of Matt

    Thank you Mr. President for doing what our legislators in Wyoming are too craven and cowardly to do. Thank you in memory of Matt Shepard and other hate crime victmis.

    October 22, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  24. Albo58

    Has anyone ever be charged with a "hate crime" if the victim was a heterosexual, white American male? Didn't think so...

    October 22, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  25. A 50-year Democrat no more. Now an independent with brains.

    What difference whose desk it's on. Obama will not acto on it anymore that he has anything other program presented so far. Especially giving help to our soldiers who are dying everday. This man should be gathered up and dropped in the middle of the Afghanistan desert with Osama Bin Laden his buddy.

    October 22, 2009 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
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