The U.S. House has approved Hate Crimes Prevention Act that would expand federal protection against hate crimes to disability, trans-gender, and sexual orientation.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Springfield) spoke out against the bill , saying a crime should be punished regardless of the motive, and that it would bring put cases under federal, rather than local, control. Other members of the House added that it would put equal rights at risk.

Blunt also said the legislation raises concern that constitutional rights would be infringed on, including freedom of speech and religious expression.

All of the House republicans and 14 democrats voted against the bill, which still gained enough votes to pass.

A similar measure is in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) has introduced the Senate’s version.

A weaker version of the bill has been taken up previously, but failed under then-President Bush, who threatened a veto. President Obama has urged legislators to push it forward.

The measure is known as the Matthew Shepard Act. Shepard was a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten to death in 1998 because of his sexual orientation.

He was followed when leaving a gay bar, beaten up, tied to a fence and left for dead. The girlfriends of the two young men arrested testified that they had targeted Shepherd because he was gay.


Jessica Machetta reports [Download/listen MP3]