The United States Senate passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on October 22 by a vote of 68-29, following the House of Representatives' October 8 vote of 281-146 in favor of the act. The bill, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the criteria-race, color, religion, national original, gender and disability-that define a violent crimes as hate motivated under the Department of Defense authorization bill, next goes to President Barack Obama, who supports the legislation, for his signature.
The bill is named for Mathew Shepard, the young, gay University of Wyoming student, who was brutally murdered in Laramie in 1998, and James Byrd, Jr., the African-American who was chained to the bumper of a truck and dragged down a street in Texas the same year.
Matthew's parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, have campaigned vigorously for this legislation since their son's murder.
Judy Shepard, President of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board, said today, "Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families."
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Director Rea Carey commented, "Today's vote marks a milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The hate crime now shifts to the president. With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era-one in which hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated. Our country will finally take an unequivocal stand against the bigotry that too often leads to violence against LGBT people, simply for being who they are."
An earlier version of the Senate bill included a death penalty provision, which was struck from its final language.