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Senate passes bill expanding hate crimes protection for gender and sexual orientation

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] approved a bill [S 909 materials] Thursday that would expand hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would provide federal assistance to state and local authorities to prosecute hate crimes and would allow the federal government to prosecute such crimes that state or local prosecutors do not pursue. Current hate crimes law only protects crimes motivated by race, religion, color, or national origin. The measure was applauded [press release] by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website], who called its approval a "victory for all Americans." Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) [official website] opposed the bill on the Senate floor, arguing that the wording of the legislation shows an intent to prosecute speech [official blog] "if it is part of the broader prosecution of an action that could be perceived as a hate crime." DeMint and others have also raised equal protection concerns for hate crime legislation.

The US House of Representatives [official website] considered similar legislation [HR 1913 materials] in April, approving the measure [JURIST report] by 249-175. Both the House and Senate bills include crimes motivated by disabilities as well as gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In 2007, the House and Senate [JURIST reports] passed similar legislation but the broadened language was ultimately removed [JURIST report] during House and Senate negotiations.

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