Washington A House vote Thursday put Congress on the verge of significantly expanding hate crimes law to make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation. The legislation would bring major changes to law enacted in the days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.
“No American should ever have to suffer persecution or violence because of who they are, how they look or what they believe,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noting that hate crimes legislation has been on her agenda since she first entered Congress more than two decades ago.
She added that it’s been 11 years since the gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, whose name was attached to the legislation, was murdered.
Civil rights groups and their Democratic allies have come close to expanding the hate crimes bill several times in the past decade, but have always fallen short because of lack of House-Senate coordination or opposition from former President George W. Bush.
But this time it appears they may succeed. The bill was attached to a must-pass $680 billion defense policy bill that the Senate could approve as early as next week. President Barack Obama, unlike his predecessor, has promised to sign it into law. The late Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was a longtime advocate of the hate crimes legislation.