From this day on U.S. laws will protect the rights of persons with non-conventional sexual orientation.
U.S. congress gave final approval and sent to President Barack Obama legislation to add gays to the list of groups covered by U.S. hate-crime laws.
The Senate voted 68 to 29 yesterday in favor of the plan as part of a defense policy measure. The House approved the bill earlier this month. Democrats, who had been pushing the expansion for a decade, hailed the legislation.
Republicans criticized the provision as unnecessary, saying violent crimes are illegal regardless of the offenders’ motivations. There was also an opinion that bill "violates the principle of equal justice under the law and also infringes on the free-speech rights of the American people.”
The measure approved yesterday would add legal protection for those attacked because of their sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. It would give the U.S. Justice Department expanded authority to prosecute such crimes when local authorities don’t act.
The provision is named after Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student killed in 1998 because he was gay, and James Byrd Jr., a black man dragged to his death that year behind a pickup truck.
There were 7,624 hate-crime incidents in 2007, almost 17 % of which were based on sexual orientation, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The legislation authorizes the U.S. attorney general to provide grants to local police departments to pursue hate crimes. It also establishes a seven-year deadline to file charges in cases not involving death.
Bloomberg has contributed to the report.