The Senate passed legislation late last night that would protect people who are attacked because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability.
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act provides the most significant changes to federal hate crimes law since the approval of a 1968 bill that covered crimes carried out on the basis of religion, race, color or national origin. The legislation last night was added to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Bill. The hate crimes amendment passed by a voice vote after a 63-28 vote on cloture.
“The Senate made a strong statement this evening that hate crimes have no place in America,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a statement. “I am pleased to see the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act added as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill.”
Most Republicans were against the hate crimes legislation, saying state laws already cover hate crimes and it could criminalize religious opposition to homosexuality. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday that he was “deeply, deeply disappointed” by Reid for introducing the legislation as an amendment to the defense bill.
Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio) were the only Republicans to vote in favor of cloture. There were no Democrats that voted against cloture.
Backers of the hate crimes legislation have tried to attach it to the annual defense authorization bill since 1999, but it was always taken out before a final vote on the defense legislation. Attorney General Eric Holder called on Congress last month to pass hate crimes legislation.