Special hate crimes protection for homosexuals is now headed to President Obama to be signed into law.
In a 68-29 vote, the Senate approved the Defense Authorization Act -- a bill that will fund America's military, but also make it illegal to commit violent crimes against homosexual and transgendered induviduals.
Democrats attached the hate crimes legislation to the defense budget as a sure pass. The House approved the bill earlier this month, Thursday's vote now sends the legislation to President Obama's desk.
Conservatives have been outspoken about the hate crimes provisions, saying it is unneccesary since hate crimes laws already exist.
"The statistics in so-called hate crime categories, such as homosexuality or religious belief as the reason for hate crime, has not escalated," explained Craig Parshall, chief counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters. "It's been pretty stable over the past decade and it comprises only a small percentage of a small percentage of all crime occuring in the United States."
Click here for more on why some pastors fear the law would prohibit what they can preach about homosexuality.
Like Parshall, many Christian leaders fear pastors and others could be prosecuted under the law for preaching against homosexuality.
"I believe the gospel is going to be attacked among other things, where people who speak out against gayness, speak out against homosexuality, are penalized by overzealous prosecutors," said Bishop Harry Jackson of the conservative High Impact Leadership Coalition.
Proponents claim some 7,500 hate crimes occur a year -- about one an hour -- making the legislation necessary.
Parshall says it's nothing more than a threat to free speech, despite promises that religious leaders would not be penalized because of the laws.
"A greater threat to religious liberty on the current landscape would be hard to imagine," he claimed.
Thursday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid downed Republicans who'd voted against the bill.
"I am pleased that today we were able to move the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 a step closer to passage this afternoon. But I'm disappointed that Senate Republicans have decided that defeating hate crimes legislation takes precedent over supporting our troops," he said.
"What message does that send to our country and, more importantly, to our troops?" Reid added.