Physical attacks on people based on their sexual orientation will join the list of federal hate crimes in a major expansion of the civil rights-era law Congress approved today and sent to President Obama. The measure, on the congressional agenda for a decade, expands current law to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability; it is named for Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student murdered 11 years ago.
To assure its passage after years of frustrated efforts, Democratic supporters attached the measure to a must-pass $680 billion defense policy bill the Senate approved 68-29. The House passed the defense bill earlier this month. Many Republicans, normally staunch supporters of defense bills, voted against the bill because of the hate-crimes provision.