The U.S. Senate Thursday passed the first LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act with a bipartisan 68-31 vote, introducing explicit protections for LGBT survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The law organizes federal funding to enhance investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault while also supporting victim service programs. It was originally enacted in 1994, but it has never had LGBT-inclusive provisions. Senators defeated an amendment, with a 36-63 vote, that would have rewritten the bill and excluded protections for LGBT violence victims.
According to Sharon Stapel of the Anti-Violence Project, 25%-35% of same-sex relationships are marked by domestic violence and abuse, which is about the same rate as other relationships. However, LGBT domestic violence victims have fewer supportive services, and they often face discrimination when seeking help. This latest reauthorization ensures that all people are able to access services regardless of his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
"To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking is terrifying and traumatic," National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey said in a statement issued shortly after the vote. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not immune from this violence, and their distress should not be further heightened by a lack of proper response from service providers or law enforcement. Imagine being assaulted, scared and in pain — and then being turned away from receiving basic services and care. No one should ever be subjected to such inhumane treatment."
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has yet to act on this reauthorization bill, but is expected to vote on it as early as May,
according to the Human Rights Campaign.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement shortly after the vote urging her House colleagues to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
"House Democrats, led by Congresswoman Gwen Moore, have proposed legislation that mirrors the bill passed by the Senate," she said. "Both bills extend defense against domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking; include provisions to expand the classes of victims who would be protected – including Native Americans and the LGBT community; and ensure protections for immigrants affected by domestic violence."