Congress has approved Thursday an expansion of the civil era-rights law defining hate crimes. Attacks against people based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability will now be covered under the list of federal hate crimes. The Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named for a gay Wyoming student who was attacked and killed 11 years ago. The measure was tacked on to a crucial defense policy bill, a tactic Democrats used to ensure that the act, which had lingered on the congressional agenda for a decade, would finally go through. Though nearly all states have their own laws governing hate crimes, the act's passage widens the federal government's ability to step in and follow through on an alleged hate crime. Conservatives expressed concern about the act's potential to curb freedom of religion and speech, though the legislation is clear that it targets acts, not speech or thought.