Attached to the $680 billion defense authorization bill, President Obama on Wednesday signed a law that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. The expanded federal hate crimes law now, which also covers crimes motivated by disability, is hailed by supporters as the first major federal gay rights legislation.
The hate crimes measure was named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to death in Texas the same year.
"No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability," Obama said, referring to Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.