Bill extends protection to gays, lesbians, transgender people, undocumented workers and Native Americans
House Republicans made a surprise about-turn on a bill to renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday.
The move amounted to a tacit admission by the GOP that it had suffered in the November White House and Congressional elections from its perceived image as being hostile on women’s issues and gay rights.
The act, a landmark piece of legislation first passed in 1994, provides financial support for a host of provisions such as refuges for battered women, violence hotlines, rape education programmes and new methods for dealing with abusers and stalkers.
The bill passed by the House on Thursday extends the protections to gays, lesbians, transgender people, undocumented workers and Native Americans.
House Republicans blocked renewal of the act last year, expressing opposition to extending coverage. But on Thursday, 87 Republicans joined Democrats to vote for renewal by 286 to 138.
The act was pushed through in 1994 by then-senator Joe Biden. The vice-president on Thursday welcomed its passage: “Today Congress put politics aside and voted to reauthorise the Violence Against Women Act … Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64% reduction in domestic violence.”
“The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious,” Biden said. “Consider just one fact – that 40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.”
The Senate voted earlier for renewal by 78 to 22. It now goes to the White House for signature.
Barack Obama fought his campaign for re-election partly on portraying the Democrats as champions of women’s rights and those of gays, and accusing the Republicans of waging war against women.
The Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, expressed concern that even though renewal of the act has gone through, it might end up a victim of budget cuts under sequestration, with programmes tackling abuse of women facing a $20 million reduction.
Abuse of women is a serious and widespread problem in tribal areas. House Republicans last year cited constitutional rights that give a high degree of autonomy on the reservations, as one of their reasons for opposing the renewal of the act extending its reach into the tribal areas.