The U.S. Senate voted today to expand the 1969 federal hate crimes law to include people attacked because of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Named for a young gay man killed in Wyoming, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed as part of a defense spending bill due for a final vote next week. The House passed a similar measure in April, but as a separate piece of legislation.
Sen. Reid's move to include the hate crimes legislation as an amendment to a must-pass defense bill drew objections from Republicans.
Opponents of hate-crimes laws argue that attacks are covered under existing criminal statutes. "Those of us who oppose this legislation -- and it is important legislation -- will be faced with a dilemma of choosing between a bill which can harm, in my view, the United States of America and its judicial system and a bill defending the nation," Sen. John McCain of Arizona said. "I don't think that's fair to any member of this body."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had this to say: "This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim."
Update at 3 p.m. ET: The vote was 63-28 (nine senators did not vote).
All 56 Democrats who were present and the 2 independents (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont) voted "for" the legislation. The Republicans who crossed party lines to vote in favor of the amendment were Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio.
Click here to see how senators voted.