Senate passes groundbreaking hate crimes bill 68 to 29
Now the bill goes to President Obama; in the past, former President George W Bush had threatened to use executive powers of the presidential office to veto a similar bill.
The bill is named after Wyoming coed Matthew Shepard.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate passed groundbreaking legislation Thursday that would make it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
The expanded federal hate crimes law now goes to President Obama's desk. Obama has pledged to sign the measure, which was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill.
President George W. Bush had threatened to veto a similar measure.
The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, a gayWyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998.
Thursday's Senate vote approving the measure was 68-29.
Several religious groups have expressed concern that a hate-crimes law could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality.
Attorney General Eric Holder has asserted that any federal hate-crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.
This month, Obama told the country's largest gay rights group that the nation still needs to make significant changes to ensure equal rights for gays and lesbians.