For Immediate Release - October 28, 2009

Attorney General Martha Coakley Applauds President Obama for Signing Matthew Shepard Act into Law

BOSTON - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley issued the following statement today regarding President Barack Obama's signing of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act (HCPA):

"The Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act provides federal authorities with critical tools to fight violent acts motivated by bias and hate, and I am very pleased that President Obama has signed it into law," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "Although it is the states' primary responsibility to enforce criminal law in our respective states, federal assistance is critical in fighting hate crimes and their effects on victims and communities. The HCPA provides a valuable backstop for situations in which local authorities are either without jurisdiction or resources to act. It also takes an important step in protecting our civil rights by expanding the federal law to protect categories of gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity."

The HCPA removes jurisdictional barriers to permit the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute violent acts motivated by bias and hate and to strengthen existing federal law by providing new authority for crimes where the victim is intentionally selected because of his or her gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

Prior to the passage of this law, the Justice Department could only prosecute crimes motivated by the victim's race, religion, or national origin when that person is engaged in a federally protected activity. Under the HCPA, federal prosecution of hate crimes is permissible irrespective of whether they were committed while the victim was engaged in a protected activity.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Coakley, along with 25 other Attorneys General from across the country, wrote to Congressional leaders to express their support for the HCPA.

Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Coakley has vigorously advocated for the rights of the GLBT community, and has brought actions to protect individuals whose rights have been violated based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Attorney General has sought and obtained multiple civil rights injunctions to protect LGBT victims who were victims of hate crimes. These included an injunction against two men who attacked a transgender teenage in a Dorchester pizza shop, an injunction against a Quincy man who attacked two men who had just left a known gay bar, an injunction against a Framingham man who attacked a group of people in Boston's South End neighborhood, an injunction against a woman who repeatedly harassed her neighbor because he is gay, and an injunction against a Winthrop man who attacked two women walking along Commercial Street in Provincetown.

In addition, Attorney General Coakley's office has conducted several trainings with police department and district attorney's offices around the state on how to better identify and respond to hate crimes.

In July 2009, Attorney General Coakley's Office filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, unfairly excluding more than 16,000 Massachusetts married same-sex couples and their families from critically important rights and protections based on marital status. The Attorney General has also opposed a state constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, and fought for state legislation to amend hate crime and non-discrimination laws to protect the civil rights of transgender people.