WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama signed legislation expanding federal involvement in prosecuting hate crimes.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would expand the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. It also will allow federal authorities to pursue hate-crimes cases when local authorities are either unable or unwilling to do so.
"We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear," Obama said at a White House reception Wednesday commemorating the signing of the bill, which he signed earlier in the day as part of the $680 billion defense authorization bill.
"Because no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love," he said. "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 also noted that advocates had been working to pass the bill for more than 12 years. A number of Jewish groups, led by the Anti-Defamation League, had pushed the measure.
ADL national director Abraham Foxman said it was a "monumental achievement and a great day for America" as he joined with civil rights leaders and members of Congress at the White House ceremony.