(AP) - Gay victims of violence would gain new federal protections under a revived and expanded hate crimes bill passed by the House on Wednesday over conservatives' objections.
Hate crimes—as defined by the bill—are those motivated by prejudice and based someone's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The bill, which passed 249-175, could provide a financial bonanza to state and local authorities, with grants for investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. The federal government could step in and prosecute if states requested it or declined to exercise their authority.
A weaker bill died two years ago under a veto threat from President George W. Bush.
President Barack Obama, in contrast, urged support, saying it would "enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association." Obama called for passage in the Senate, where Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., is the chief sponsor.
The House bill added protections based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a supporter of the bill, contended it was protection for gays that drove the opposition.
"I wonder if our friends on the other side of the aisle would be singing the same offensive tune if we were talking about hate crimes based on race or religion," she said, referring to Republican opponents. "It seems to me it is the category of individuals that they are offended by, rather than the fact that we have hate crimes laws at all."
She then recounted cases where gay people were victims of violence.
The issue was personal for openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who said the bill would protect "people like me." He said he wasn't asking for approval from people with whom he didn't want to associate.
Answering those who said the protections were not needed, Frank quoted Chico Marx, one of the Marx Brothers comedy team, from the movie "Duck Soup": "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
Current law only permits federal prosecutions against crimes based on race, religion, color or national origin—and only when the victims are engaged in federally protected activity such as voting.
The bill aroused the ire of conservative religious groups and pastors. Several Republicans argued those leaders could face criminal charges for speaking out against homosexuality or, at the very least, would be reluctant to state their views.