Senate votes to extend federal hate crime protections to gays


WASHINGTON — A bill to make violence against gays and
lesbians a federal crime cleared the Senate Thursday and is headed to the White
House for final approval.

The 68-29 vote was a victory for civil rights groups that
have been fighting for years to expand the federal hate crimes law beyond
attacks motivated by bias based on religion, race, national origin or color.
The new bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign, includes
penalties for assaults based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender,
disability or gender identity.

Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department would
be charged with enforcing the new provisions, praised the bill’s passage.

“There have been nearly 80,000 hate crime incidents
reported to the FBI since I first testified before Congress in support of a
hate crimes bill 11 years ago,” Holder said. He said recent incidents such
as the shooting in June of an African-American security guard at the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum by a white supremacist “demonstrate that there
are still those for whom prejudice can translate into violence.”

The legislation also would give federal authorities more
power to help state and local law enforcement officials investigate hate

The bill, which was attached to a $680 billion measure
outlining the Pentagon’s budget, was passed by the House Oct. 8.

Some of the 28 Republicans who voted against the bill said
they didn’t like being forced to vote on the issue in relation to a Defense
Department bill.

“It’s a shame that this piece of legislation was added
to a bill that’s supposed to be about supporting our troops,” said Sen.
Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The Defense bill includes $130 billion for ongoing
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and authorizes a 3.4 percent pay raise for
the military.

The hate crimes measure is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay
student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten to death in 1998 and for
James Byrd Jr., an African-American man who was dragged to death after being
chained to a pickup truck in Texas that same year.

“It has been more than 10 years since the senseless and
brutal death of Matthew Shepard,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.,
“and I look forward to watching President Obama sign this much-needed
legislation into law.”

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Services.