WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has signed legislation that elevates homosexuals to the class of citizens that enjoy special protections under the law.
It's landmark legislation for gays and opponents fear it will create legal troubles for Christians.
With a flip of his pen, Obama added gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to the list of Americans granted extra protections under federal law, taking a step closer, he says, towards a more perfect union.
"We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits. Not only to inflict harm, but to inflict fear," Obama said at a White House reception for prominent gay activists.
Bishop E.W. Jackson, with Exodus Faith Ministries, joined CBN News to talk about how the hate crimes law might affect Christians. Click play to watch, following this report.
Despite added language meant to strengthen free speech protections for Christians who preach biblically held beliefs against homosexuality, many Republicans fear it is not enough.
"Whatever language they added has an escape hatch and we know from experience at the state level and around the globe that this represents a real infringement of the freedom of religion, freedom of expression of Americans," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said.
The controversial legislation passed after Democrats attached it to a vital, must-pass $680 billion defense bill that includes raises for American troops.
Under the new law, the Justice Department can step in if it determines states or localities are unwilling or unable to prosecute alleged hate crimes.
"No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are," Obama said.
The president says more than 10,000 crimes have been based on sexual orientation over the past decade.
Opponents say there are already laws on the books to punish those crimes and that the new hate crimes expansion will do little to prevent violence against gays.
Instead, many predict, the new law will land Christians in jail.
"If you aid, abet or induce in the commission of a federal crime, you're guilty of that crime," Pence said. "Someone could preach a sermon out of Romans Chapter 1 about sexual practices and if someone was inspired by malevolent intent in some way to go out and commit an act of violence that pastor, that minister, that priest could be held liable under current federal law."
Pence predicts the legislation will end up in court.
Meanwhile, the new law puts Obama back into good graces with the gay community after some members complained the president was dragging his feet on issues important to them.
[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this text incorrectly identified James Byrd as a gay man. He was an African American lynched in 1998. His murder, along with that of Matthew Shepard, who was killed for being gay, inspired the hate crimes legislation. Relatives representing Byrd and Shepard were in attendance at the bill's signing Wednesday.]
*Original Broadcast Date: October 29, 2009.