The Senate voted 68-29 last week to expand the existing federal anti-hate crimes measure to include acts committed due to the victim’s gender and sexual identity.
The legislation was named after two victims of bias crime, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., who were killed in Wyoming and Texas, respectively, in 1998.
Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and president of the foundation set up in his name, praised the move saying it will send a message to Americans that "their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families."
And Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign called it "our nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
However, the vote came under fire from many conservatives who have worried it could be used to limit freedom of speech of those whose religious or other beliefs do not agree with homosexuality.
In fact, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said that the bill is "part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality."
With the new provision, lawmakers expanded the scope of federal hate crimes, which previously only included race, color, religion and national origin. To become law, the bill must now be signed by President Obama who pledged to do so.