Udall: ‘Now is the time’ for Congress to pass Matthew Shepard Act

Invoking the brutal murders of Matthew Shepard and Angie Zapata, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall called on Congress “to finally pass” federal hate crimes legislation in an opinion column published Sunday in the Boulder Daily Camera.

Days before the trial of Zapata’s accused killer is set to begin in Greeley, the Boulder County Democrat lamented that “vile prejudice based on sexual orientation still plagues our society” a decade after Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in the cold.

Prosecutors charge that Zapata’s accused killer, Allen Andrade, beat her to death last summer after discovering she was a transgender woman. In addition to first-degree murder and other felony charges, Andrade faces prosecution under Colorado’s bias-motivated crime statute, which could add three years to his sentence if jurors decide he killed Zapata because she was transgender. It’s the first time in the nation a hate-crime charge has been prosecuted in the murder of a transgender victim.

From Udall’s column:

I was elected to Congress a month after Matthew’s murder. And for every year thereafter, I supported federal hate crimes legislation that would later be renamed in honor of Matthew — The Matthew Shepard Act. Sadly, that legislation has yet to pass Congress.

Ten years later, in 2008, I asked voters to send me to the United States Senate. During that campaign, I was deeply saddened to learn about another tragic murder — right here in Colorado.

Udall cautioned that it is up to the jury to rule on Andrade’s guilt and motives, but said he hoped the groundbreaking hate-crime prosecution would “help inform other states and perhaps enlighten the Congress to follow suit for the country as a whole.”

As a Coloradan, I know that vicious hate crimes committed against people like Matthew and Angie are appalling to us all. As the trial for Angie starts in Greeley next week, I rededicate myself to seeing the federal hate crimes bill, The Matthew Shepard Act, passed in this Congress. President Obama has promised to sign the bill. As Colorado’s Senator, I believe now is the time — in remembrance of Matthew and Angie — to finally pass this crucial piece of legislation.

A group of progressive, gay-rights and anti-violence organizations are urging Congress to pass federal hate-crime legislation, known as the Matthew Shepard Act, which would add gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crime law. The proposal would also allow federal authorities to step in when local law enforcement either asks for help or refuses to take the lead investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated crimes of violence.

The legislation passed both houses of Congress in 2007 with bipartisan support, but then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill and congressional leaders dropped it. Last month, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois introduced the bill again. Supporters are confident the legislation will become law this year because Obama has said he will sign it.