Update on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Late Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to cut off debate on legislation which would add, to existing federal hate crimes protections, the victims of those hate crimes perpetrated based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender or disability.

By a 63-28 tally, senators agreed to cloture on the Leahy Amendment to the Department of Defense spending bill for Fiscal Year 2010. The Leahy Amendment is identical to the stand-alone bill, S. 909, dubbed the Matthew Shepard Act and sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

A formal vote on the amendment and on the overall bill will come early next week, but Thursday’s procedural motion all but guarantees the Act will clear the Senate as it did the House back in April by a wide margin.

Currently, a dispute over the controversial purchase of additional F-22 aircraft remains an obstacle to enactment of the bill, as President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any bill which includes the additional F-22 planes, which the military says are not needed. Senators from states with defense contracting jobs tied to the airplanes are fighting to keep the purchase on track.

Whatever version of the DoD authorization passes the Senate will then go to a House-Senate conference committee, but House and Senate leaders have promised to retain the Matthew Shepard Act in the final version of the legislation, and President Obama again signaled Friday his support of the Act.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation is extremely grateful to the 58 Democrats and five Republicans who voted in favor of moving forward with these crucial protections for LGBT Americans and their families who seek justice in cases where state and local authorities will not, cannot or cannot afford to secure appropriate convictions and sentences against perpetrators.

We also have received many questions as to why the measure is attached to a Pentagon spending bill. It is longstanding practice in the Senate to combine numerous topics into single bills due to the extraordinary hurdles any bill must clear in order to pass that body. Constitutional features of the Senate and its own rules make this a routine, if confusing, aspect of the way Congress operates.

From all of us at the Foundation, we send our thanks to all Americans who have made their voices heard on this long-overdue legislation.

Jason Marsden
Executive Director

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