Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming who was murdered near Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. His murder shocked the nation and spurred activism against anti-gay violence.

Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard

Today, the Matthew Shepard Act, or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed Congress. If signed by President Barack Obama, the act will expand the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Barack Obama will sign this bill into law shortly, unless he has some sort of sudden change of heart. Basically, attacking someone for his/her sexual orientation will now be a federal offense, akin to attacking someone because of his/her skin color.

Some conservatives who opposed the act originally did so fearing that this act would muzzle free speech regarding homosexuality. They were afraid that making comments stating that homosexuality is immoral would be construed as inciting violence against them.

The act as passed contains the following provision, “Nothing in this Act…shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.” The inclusion of this provision alleviated some concerns regarding the prohibition of speech regarding homosexuality.

How do you feel about the Matthew Shepard Act? Should anti-gay crimes be viewed as the same as racist crimes?