Hallelujah, but it ain’t over yet.

Today, the U.S. Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing the Matthew Shepard Act and sent it to President Bush.

The Matthew Shepard Act provides an opportunity for communities to receive federal resources in the prosecution of crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity.

This can make a huge difference in the manner in which local law enforcement are able to prosecute crimes in their community.  In 1998, both James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard were savagely murdered due to race (Byrd was an African American man) and sexual orientation (Shepard was a gay man).  In prosecuting the murderers of James Byrd, Jr., the local law authorities were able to use the existing federal hate crimes legislation to pull in federal assistance in financial resources and human-power.  With the Matthew Shepard prosecution however, the county could barely afford the costs of the trial, and had to furlough five law enforcement employees (.doc) in order to pay the bills.  That’s completely crazy.

As a Christian who strives to follow Jesus’ mandate to love my neighbor as myself, I see no less of a mandate to do so based on someone’s sexual orientation, gender, disability, or gender identity.  This legislation is long overdue, and yet it remains under the threat of an impending presidential veto.  May God truly speak to this leader, and may Mr. Bush truly have ears to hear God’s mandate to love others just as we love ourselves.

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