(CNS) - With no debate and little public fanfare, the Senate approved language in the Justice Department Appropriations bill that adds sexual orientation to the list of categories protected by hate crime penalties.
The approval of the amendment to the appropriations bill came on a voice vote late in the night, flying under the radar of most major newspapers.
The measure was sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and about three dozen other legislators from both sides of the aisle.
President Clinton called on the House to pass similar language in its appropriations bill, which does not presently include any hate crime language. The issue is expected to come up in joint conferences.
"We have some distance to go before the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is the law of the land, but tonight's action by the Senate is a big step forward in the journey toward greater protection for all Americans," Clinton said in a written statement.
Homosexual advocacy groups lauded the passage of the language, which expands existing protections to cover sexual orientation, gender, and disability status; would allow prosecutions in all cases, not just constitutionally-protected activities; and would make it easier for federal authorities to prosecute hate crimes when state or local authorities cannot or will not.