From the New York Times, AP/Washington Post, Los Angeles Times:
Over the objections of Republicans, the House Thursday voted to broaden the federal hate-crime law to prohibit violence against people because of their disability, sexual orientation, gender or affiliation with the military.
The measure, which now goes to the Senate, was attached to a $680 billion defense spending bill that includes a pay hike for members of the military. Similar hate crime legislation had faced a veto threat from former president George Bush, but President Obama has promised to sign it.
“No American should ever have to suffer persecution or violence because of who they are, how they look, or what they believe,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Passage of the legislation would mark the first major expansion to law enacted after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Existing federal law defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on race, color, religion or national origin.
Democrats hailed the 281-146 vote as the culmination of an effort to curb violent attacks like the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die 11 years ago.
The vote comes just days after the release of a Justice Department report that found people with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to experience nonfatal violent crime than their peers. Women with disabilities were found to be victims at rates almost twice that for other women, and rates of rape and sexual assault were 2.7 times higher than those for the general population. Of the violent crime victims with disabilities surveyed, nearly one in five said they believed they were targeted because of their disability.
Republican opponents accused Democrats of committing legislative blackmail by attaching the measure to the defense spending bill. A number assailed the measure as “thought crimes” legislation, contending that it could lead to the prosecution of a pastor delivering sermons against homosexuality if one of his church members committed a hate crime.
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