WASHINGTON- In an historic step toward equality for GLBT Americans, the U.S. Senate voted to pass the Matthew Shepard Act, which updates and expands the federal hate crimes laws to include bias motivated violence based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability, and provides new resources and tools to assist local law enforcement in prosecuting vicious crimes.
"For over a decade our community has worked tirelessly to ensure protections to combat violence motivated by hate and today we are the closest we have ever been to seeing that become a reality," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Congress has taken an historic step forward and moved our country closer to the realization that all Americans, including the GLBT community, are part of the fabric of our nation. The new leadership in Congress fully understands that for too long our community has been terrorized by hate violence. And today, the US Senate has sent a clear message to every corner of our country that we will no longer turn a blind eye to anti-gay violence in America."
The Senate in a bipartisan vote of 60 to 39 accepted cloture which ended debate on the bill and then moved to approve the Matthew Shepard Act by a voice vote -- attaching it as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Defense Authorization bill.
On May 3rd, the House of Representatives passed a companion bill, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592), with a strong bipartisan margin of 237 to 180. Twenty-six state Attorneys General, including 23 from states with anti-hate crimes laws already on the books, as well as 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations support the Matthew Shepard Act and the LLEHCPA because, despite progress toward equality in almost all segments of our society, hate crimes continue to spread fear and violence and local law enforcement often lack the tools and resources to prevent and prosecute them. Some of these supporting organizations include the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state attorneys general, the National District Attorneys Association, the NAACP, the Episcopal Church, the League of Women Voters, the Anti-Defamation League, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the YWCA of the USA and the United Methodist Church.
The President has threatened to veto the legislation, calling it "unnecessary." According to the FBI, 25 Americans each day are victims of hate crimes-that means approximately one hate crime is committed every hour. One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim's sexual orientation. It's time to update the law to protect everyone, and this year marks our best chance yet to get it done.
"Hate crimes terrorize entire communities and violate America's core democratic principles that all citizens are created equal and are afforded equal protection under the law," continued Solmonese. "On behalf of the millions of Americans who have waited too long for these critical protections, we urge President Bush to sign the bill when it arrives on his desk."
The hate crimes amendment was introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR). It confers authority on the federal government to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against victims solely because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability when local officials are unwilling or unable to do so. It also expands existing federal hate crimes law to improve prosecution of bias-motivated crimes based on race, religious, national origin and color and provides additional resources to local law enforcement.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
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