Death Fuels Hate Crimes Debate

The death of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard has stunned the nation. Even the president got involved, using the 21-year-old's death to gain support for a bill that would amend the national hate crimes law to include victims targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, or disabilities.

According to the FBI, homosexuals were the targets of 1,006 hate crimes in 1996. Now, the death of Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, has galvanized opinions on both sides of the debate.

Gay activists say they need the law because many officials are themselves biased and may not pursue those who attack homosexuals. They also say a Federal law would bring with it the resources of the FBI and Justice Department.

"Hate crimes laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court, and they are very good vehicles, both to deter such crimes and to bring the hate crimes prevention act," Elizabeth Birch, national director of the Human Rights Campaign, told CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Jane Robelot. "I think the bill has been moving very, very well and enjoys support on both sides of the aisle. They owe it to Matthew Shepard to pass this legislation before they leave."

Some Christian groups oppose the bill because they say it could prosecute someone for their thoughts, not their conduct.

"If we look at murder, one of the things that we're concerned about is hate crimes legislation that attempts to demonize a kind of thinking, Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for the Family Research Council, told Robelot. "It attempts to say, because of the way you think, your murder somehow is worse or different. Because you might think that homosexuality is wrong, you are more evil."

Click on the video at left to see the complete interview from CBS This Morning.