The U.S. House of Representatives today reauthorized the LGBT-inclusive Senate version of Violence Against Women Act, despite objections from some Republicans about language protecting LGBT, Native American, and undocumented victims of domestic violence. The bill now heads to President Obama's desk, where he has promised to sign it into law.
After more than a year languishing in Congress, the bill reauthorizing VAWA passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 286-138, according to NBC News. The bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate in February.
President Obama issued a statement this morning commending the bill's passage and promising to sign it as soon as possible.
"I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act," said Obama in a statement. "Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today's vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community. The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice. I want to thank leaders from both parties -- especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy -- for everything they've done to make this happen. Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk."
With President Obama's signature, VAWA will become the nation's second LGBT-inclusive federal law, after the 2011 enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The reauthorization provides $650 million to states over five years to go toward transitional housing, legal assistance, and other services for people who have suffered domestic violence. It contains a provision that would prohibit denial of services on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability. Studies indicate many LGBT victims of domestic abuse have been turned away from shelters or denied protection orders.
Vice President Biden also spoke out in support of the reauthorization. "Today Congress put politics aside and voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act," said Biden in a statement. "Eighteen years ago, I envisioned a world where women could live free from violence and abuse. Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64% reduction in domestic violence. I am pleased that this progress will continue, with new tools for cops and prosecutors to hold abusers and rapists accountable, and more support for all victims of these crimes."
LGBT advocacy organizations across the board were happy with the forward progress.
Gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans commended the bipartisan passage. "We're pleased to see that the LGBT-inclusive bi-partisan version of the Violence Against Women Act passed by the United States Senate has also passed in the House with bipartisan support, including the votes of 87 Republicans," said LCR executive director Gregory T. Angelo. "Codifying law to acknowledge the reality that gay and lesbians can be the unfortunate victims of domestic abuse just as their straight counterparts is an issue of basic fairness, and we applaud those Republicans in the House who demonstrated the importance of equal protection under the law with their votes today."
"We are pleased that the House passed a strong Violence Against Women Act ensuring key protections for all survivors of violence," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in a statement. "This is so important to the many transgender people who experience violence and abuse almost daily. VAWA will give all of our communities -- LGBT, immigrant, and Native American -- the access we need to services that protect us from abuse."
"This is a huge victory for the millions of people across the country affected by domestic and sexual violence, including LGBT people," said Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking -- whether perpetrated by a stranger or an intimate partner -- is terrifying and traumatic. A survivor's distress should not be compounded by a lack of proper response from service providers or law enforcement. Imagine being assaulted, scared and in pain -- and then also being turned away from the care you need simply because of who you are or who you love. This legislation will better ensure that does not happen. We thank Congress and look forward to President Obama's signature on this critically important bill. This law will literally help save lives."
The Human Rights Campaign also lauded the reauthorization. "It's tremendous that both Republican and Democratic leaders came together to ensure that all domestic violence victims, including those who are LGBT, will not face discrimination when they seek services," said HRC president Chad Griffin. "There need not be a partisan divide on LGBT issues, and this vote shows that we can come together to find common sense solutions to issues facing our community."