In an historic step toward equality for GLBT Americans, the US Senate voted on Thursday to pass the Matthew Shepard Act, which updates and expands the federal hate crimes laws to include violence based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability. It also provides new resources and tools to assist local law enforcement in prosecuting vicious crimes.

“For over a decade our community has worked tirelessly to ensure protections to combat violence motivated by hate and today we are the closest we have ever been to seeing that become a reality,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“Today, the US Senate has sent a clear message to every corner of our country that we will no longer turn a blind eye to anti-gay violence in America,” he added.

The Senate in a bipartisan vote of 60 to 39 accepted “cloture” which ended debate on the bill and then moved to approve the Matthew Shepard Act by a voice vote – attaching it as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Defense Authorization bill.

The President has threatened to veto the legislation, calling it “unnecessary.” According to the FBI, 25 Americans each day are victims of hate crimes-that means approximately one hate crime is committed every hour. One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.

Twenty-six state Attorneys General, including 23 from states with anti-hate crimes laws already on the books, as well as 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations support the Matthew Shepard Act. Some of these supporting organisations include the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state attorneys general, the National District Attorneys Association, the NAACP, the Episcopal Church, the League of Women Voters, the Anti-Defamation League, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the YWCA of the USA and the United Methodist Church.

“Hate crimes terrorize entire communities and violate America’s core democratic principles that all citizens are created equal and are afforded equal protection under the law,” said Solmonese. “On behalf of the millions of Americans who have waited too long for these critical protections, we urge President Bush to sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.”

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