[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] Thursday approved a bill [PDF text; HR 1592 summary] to expand federal hate crimes legislation to include violent attacks against people based on gender or sexuality. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 broadens the definition of a hate crime and also makes it easier for federal law enforcement to become involved. A similar bill is circulating in the US Senate. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation [PDF policy statement]. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) [official website] and is named for Matthew Shepard [Wikipedia backgrounder], who was killed because of his sexual orientation.
The current federal hate crime bill only protects crimes committed based on race, religion, color or national origin. Socially conservative organizations have denounced the bill in fear it will repress individuals' ability to morally disagree with homosexual lifestyles. The bill has also been criticized for giving special protections to homosexuals while excluding other vulnerable classes like senior citizens, military personnel, and police officers. AP has more.