Lawmakers Name Hate Crimes Bill After Matthew Shepard

Thursday, April 12th 2007, 6:25 pm

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Supporters of hate-crimes legislation said Thursday they expect Congress to enact a law this year expanding federal penalties for acts of violence against homosexuals.

They have renamed their latest proposal in honor of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who died after he was beaten and tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998.

Lawmakers from both parties have pushed for a hate-crimes bill for nearly a decade. This year, however, supporters expect it will make it to President Bush partly because they consider Congress' new Democratic majority more sympathetic than its previous GOP leaders.

By putting Shepard's name on the bill, ``I believe we'll be more successful,'' said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

The measure would add protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity to existing laws that target violence because of race and religion.

``I can't think of a better way to honor Matthew's memory. He was a 21-year-old college student just living his life,'' said Shepard's mother Judy Shepard, who now heads a foundation in her son's name.

Asked about potential opposition from religious groups that disagree with homosexuality, Smith said that should not be a problem.

``This act is about the prosecution of crime, not prohibition of speech,'' Smith said. ``Unless they believe part of their religion is the practice of violence against others, they should not be affected by this bill.''

Various versions of the hate crimes bill have passed the House or Senate in recent years, but have never reached the president.

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