Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming who was murdered near Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 for being gay. His murder shocked the nation and spurred activism against anti-gay violence.
Yesterday the Matthew Shepard Act (Hate Crimes Prevention Act) passed in Congress and is now on its way to be signed by President Obama. Once signed, 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. Basically, it will make it a federal offense to attack someone for his/her sexual orientation, akin to attacking someone because of his/her skin color.
Conservatives who originally opposed the act did so fearing that it would limit 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, to the Constitution.” The inclusion of this provision alleviated some concerns regarding the prohibition of speech regarding homosexuality.