The House of Representative’s passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill is a great victory for civil rights in the United States. It sends a message that our nation will not tolerate those who would commit an act of violence against anyone based on who that person is, or they are perceived to be. And it finally broadens the federal definition of a hate crime to recognize such violence regardless of when or where it is carried out.

Sadly, this historic vote was marred by the ignorant and insensitive comments of Representative Virginia Foxx, whose outright denial of the heinous crime that took Matthew Shepard’s life is an affront to the very rights the bill seeks to protect. Throughout history there have been many who have sought to deny humanitarian tragedies for personal or political gain.

But this legislation serves both as a fitting tribute to Matthew Shepard, and a bold defense of all Americans’ right to be free from persecution. As such it cannot be marred by ignorant comments, no matter how deeply they offend.

Too many Americans have lost their lives to hate-fueled violence for us to ignore the need to extend further protections. I urge the Senate to speed passage of this bill, and look forward to President Obama quickly signing it into law.