WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a law that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
The expanded federal hate crimes law was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill that Obama signed at a packed White House ceremony.
The hate crimes measure was named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to death in Texas the same year.
Shepard's mother, Judy, was among those at the ceremony that also included Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric Holder and leading members of Congress and the Pentagon, who were on hand for the appropriations bill signing.
To loud applause, Obama hailed the hate crimes measure in the bill as a step toward change to "help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray."
He cited the work of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and others "to make this day possible."