For Immediate Release
(Washington, D.C., October 22, 2009)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) applauds the United States Senate for final passage of the hate crimes bill, now known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Department of Defense conference report was approved with the hate crimes bill provisions included by a vote of 68-29; earlier in the day Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii cast the final affirmative vote on a procedural motion to limit debate that cleared the last hurdle to final passage as an honor to his long service to the Senate. The conference report accompanies H.R.2647, the underlying Department of Defense Authorization bill. The measure now heads to President Obama for his signature.
The hate crimes legislation gives the Justice Department the authority to fully investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes where the victim has been targeted because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. President Barack Obama has vowed to sign the bill.
“We thank the Senate—indeed the full Congress—for passing the hate crimes bill, and especially those who provided strong leadership on this measure,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “My heart is very full today as I think of families who have lost loved ones, of Senator Kennedy, who championed this bill for so many years, and also as I imagine all those who may be saved by this measure. I look forward to President Obama swiftly signing this measure into law.”
On October 8, 2009, the United States House of Representatives voted 281-146 in favor of a joint House-Senate “conference report” on a defense authorization measure that also includes provisions that would expand the definition of federal hate crimes to cover attacks based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and military service.
The bill was introduced in the Senate on April 28, 2009 by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), among others. At the June 25, 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified that the Obama administration strongly supported the bill, stating, “The President and I seek swift passage of this legislation because hate crimes victimize not only individuals, but entire communities.”
NCLR has long supported passage of this key measure, assisting with drafting bill provisions, drawing public attention to the problem of hate violence and the need for hate crimes legislation, and providing grassroots support necessary for its passage.