Hate crimes bill named after Shepard | VailDaily.com

Hate crimes bill named after Shepard

WASHINGTON – Comparing hate crimes to terrorist acts, senators again called Thursday for a law to expand federal penalties for acts of violence against homosexuals.The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., would add protections based on sexual orientation, disability and gender to existing laws that target violence because of race and religion.Supporters have pushed for the bill for nearly a decade but said this year they expect it to become law. In part, that’s because of a new Democratic majority they said is more sympathetic to the bill than previous GOP leaders.But supporters said the bill should also receive a boost because, for the first time, it will be named after Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead in Wyoming in 1998.”By putting his face on the bill, I believe we’ll be more successful,” said Smith, who called Shepard’s story “compelling to the heart” and a stark example of why the law is needed.The bill’s name is also a tribute to Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, who has worked for more than eight years to broaden hate crimes protections on the federal and state level, Smith and other supporters said.Judy Shepard, who heads a foundation in her son’s name, said she was thrilled.”I can’t think of a better way to honor Matthew’s memory. He was a 21-year-old college student just living his life,” Shepard said.At a Capitol news conference, Shepard and other supporters said the bill would help not only the gay community, but also other minority groups.”We do not want to have second-class citizens in the United States of America,” said Kennedy.Asked about potential opposition from religious groups that disagree with homosexuality, Smith said that should not be a problem.”This act is about the prosecution of crime, not prohibition of speech,” he said. “Unless they believe part of their religion is the practice of violence against others, they should not be affected by this bill.”Various versions of the hate crimes bill have passed the House or Senate in previous years, but none has reached the president’s desk. The bill passed the Senate, 65-33, in 2004, and a similar measure passed the House a year later. Neither version survived House-Senate negotiations.Smith, a Mormon whose advocacy of the bill surprised many in his party, said the measure has been getting increased Republican support in recent years.”People’s understanding has increased,” he said. “They are more receptive now, in part because of the great advocacy of Judy Shepard.”The latest bill “will get through and it will be passed and it will be named after Matthew Shepard,” Smith said.A spokesman for the White House did not immediately return calls for comment.—On the Net:Matthew Shepard Foundation: http://www.matthewshepard.org

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