The late Matthew Shepard

The US Senate has passed hate crimes legislation that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was attached to a $680 billion defence policy bill, was passed with 68 votes for and 29 votes against.

The groundbreaking bill was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month and has now gone to President Obama to sign; something which he has committed to do.

The act is named after Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998, and James Byrd Jr, an African American man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck by three men in Texas.

The act will give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, colour, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

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