Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Senate Acts on Matthew Shepard Act: Bill Goes to Obama’s Desk

We the PeopleWashington, DC – In a historic vote Thursday, the United States Senate voted 68-29 to approve the Matthew Shepard Act, broadening federal protection from hate crimes to LGBT people.  The Shepard Act, which had already passed in the United States House of Representatives two weeks ago by a similarly wide margin, was approved by the upper house as a part of a mammoth Defense Appropriations Bill.  President Obama has repeatedly signaled that he favored extending hate crimes protections to LGBT people, and is expected to sign the bill as early as next week.  Senator Patrick Leahy, (D) Vermont, a sponsor of the bill, said to the New York Times “Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation.  For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”  Leahy also noted how appropriate a tribute the passage of the Shepard Act is to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who championed the cause of equality for LGBT Americans for many years.  Ten Republicans voted with the Democratic majority for the passage of this historic legislation.  The lone Democratic Senator to vote against passage was Russ Feingold, (D) Wisconsin, who favored the Shepard Act, but opposed the increased funding of the military action in Afghanistan.  The Shepard Act commits $5 million annually to the Justice Department to assist local communities in investigating hate crimes, and it allows the agency to assist in investigations and prosecutions if local agencies request help.  It also permits the Justice Department to carry out hate crimes investigations in localities where law enforcement neglects or stymies such action for prejudicial reasons.  Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student for whom the Act was named, has been a tireless advocate for the passage of hate crimes protections for LGBT people since Matthew was slain by two young men in Laramie in 1998. Speaking to the press, she said, “Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.”  All eyes now turn to President Obama for his signature that will enact the Matthew Shepard Act into law, the most significant lift to the LGBT community in the United States in forty years.

October 23, 2009 - Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , ,

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