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Topics In the News
House of Representatives Passes Inclusive Violence Against Women Act
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/28/13
Last updated on: 02/28/13
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On February 28, 2012, in a surprise move the United States House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes specific protections for glbtq, immigrant, and Native American victims of domestic abuse. The Act expired last year when Republicans refused to reauthorize it with the inclusive provisions intact, causing the Democrats to characterize the failure to reauthorize VAWA as yet another example of the Republican "war against women." The action today is regarded as a victory for the Obama administration and for gay rights.

The Violence Against Women Act provides funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women and allows civil redress in cases prosecutors decline to prosecute. It also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. Despite its name, the act also covers male victims of domestic violence, date rape, sexual assault, and stalking. It was first passed in 1994, then reauthorized with little controversy in 2000 and 2005.

When it came up for re-authorization in 2012, however, it was opposed by Republicans, who objected to extending the provisions of the Act to same-sex couples, to some non-documented immigrants, and to prosecutions of non-Native Americans on Native American reservations. In 2012, the Senate passed VAWA with those provisions, while the House passed a version that omitted the provisions. The two versions were deemed irreconcilable and authorization of VAWA expired.

It was feared that the same scenario would play out in 2013.

On February 12, 2013, the Senate passed its version complete with the glbtq provisions on a 78-22 vote. Voting in favor of the bill were all Democrats, every woman, and just over half of Republicans.

On February 27, 2013, the House leadership introduced a bill identical to the one adopted by the House in 2012. It did not contain the provisions Republicans had objected to last year.

However, as Ashley Parker reports in the New York Times, the Republican leadership version failed to pass. A unanimous Democratic caucus was joined by sufficient Republicans to defeat the substitute bill. With the Republican bill defeated, the Senate Bill was taken up and passed by a vote of of 286 to 138, with 199 Democrats joining 87 Republicans to reauthorize the landmark law.

Democrat after Democrat stood on the House floor, urging their colleagues to reject the weaker House version and to vote for the underlying Senate-passed bill.

Representative Gwen Moore, Democrat of Wisconsin and a victim of domestic and sexual violence herself, spoke passionately about the need to pass the Senate's reauthorization bill.

"I pray that this body will do as the Senate has done and come together as one to protect all women from violence," Representative Moore said. "As I think about the LGBT victims who are not here, the native women who are not here, the immigrants who aren't in this bill, I would say, as Sojourner Truth would say, 'Ain't they women?'"

The passage of the bill, or more accurately the Republican leadership's willingness to allow the Senate version to be voted on and passed without a majority of Republican votes, undoubtedly reflects their acute awareness that women voted heavily against the Republican candidate for President in 2012 as a result of the Republican "war against women." It may also reflect their awareness as well that their opposition to glbtq rights has become increasingly costly to their brand.

Following the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, "The Violence Against Women Act has long ensured that no woman would ever be forced to suffer in silence in the face of domestic violence and abuse. Today, a bipartisan majority of the House joined the Senate in reaffirming our pledge to America's women and families, strengthening this landmark law, extending protection to LGBT Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants, and preserving the security of all women."

President Obama also commented on the vote: "Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse," he said. "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."

In the video below, Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island urges his colleagues to support the Senate version of VAWA.

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