WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate, on a 68-29 vote Thursday, approved language that would add federal penalties for attacks on gays and lesbians.
The language, part of a conference committee report on the Pentagon budget, would broaden the current definition of federal hate crimes to include those based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, The Washington Post reported. It also would create a new federal crime to cover attacks against U.S. military personnel because of their service.
The House passed the same bill Oct. 8. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his consideration.
The current definition of federal hate crimes covers attacks motivated by race, color, religion or national origin. Gay rights groups praised the Senate's action.
"We look forward to President Obama signing it into law -- our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
Social conservatives argued that the bill violated First Amendment free speech and was a move toward a broader gay rights agenda. Congressional Republicans said they objected to Democrats' attaching the language to the defense authorization measure, calling it cynical, the Post said.
The defense bill appropriates a $680 billion budget for the Pentagon in fiscal year 2010, including $130 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.