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Obama set to sign hate crimes bill

world Updated: Oct 23, 2009 22:17 IST

US President Barack Obama is set to sign a landmark legislation passed by the Senate that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Senate passed the legislation on Thursday amid protest by religious groups, who expressed concern that the law may be used to criminalise conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality.

The measure, long a priority of the late Democratic senator Edward Kennedy, prohibits assaults based on a person's race, colour, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or mental or physical disability.

The law now goes to the desk of President Obama, who has pledged to sign the measure. Former President George W Bush had threatened to veto a similar measure.

More than 77,000 hate-crime incidents were reported by the FBI between 1998 and 2007, or "nearly one hate crime for every hour of every day over the span of a decade," the CNN quoted Attorney General Eric Holder telling the Senate Judiciary Committee in June.

The FBI, Holder added, reported 7,624 hate-crime incidents in 2007, the most current year with complete data, the report said.

Holder, who called the measure "a milestone in helping protect Americans from the most heinous bias-motivated violence", has asserted that it would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.