Openly gay U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin was in the chair’s seat Tuesday (February 12) when the U.S. Senate voted 78 to 22 to approve a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, including provisions to include gay male victims of domestic abuse.
The Human Rights Campaign praised Senate passage of the bill and its 34 to 65 rejection, during debate last week, of an amended version of the bill that would have eliminated language including LGBT victims.
The House is now expected to take up the measure but is also expected to do what it did during the last Congressional session. Last year, the House passed a version that omitted language enabling gay men to access services funded by the program. The House also eliminated a new language to make the program more accessible to immigrant and Native American tribal victims of domestic abuse. And the Congressional session expired before a House-Senate conference committee came to a resolution.
The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reports this week that there may be a small movement afoot in the House to gain Republican support for the Senate bill this time. Last year, the House vote was 221 to 205. The Hill says 17 Republican members of the House have written a letter to Republican House leaders urging them to support a bipartisan bill.
Democrats see the Senate version as an attempt to expand protections for more victims of domestic abuse and victims, including LGBT people, immigrants, and Native Americans, who are disadvantaged under the current law. Republicans see the Senate version as an attempt to funnel federal funds to progressive groups, such as LGBT health clinics.
A final version was never hammered out but funding for the existing program has been continued temporarily in the expectation that the program will eventually be reauthorized.
The VAWA has been a popular piece of legislation with both political parties since 1994, when it was first passed. But this year, the Senate version of the bill to reauthorize the program includes language specifying that VAWA-funded programs cannot discriminate based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of a victim. It includes funding for “underserved” populations “who face barriers in accessing and using victim services because of various reasons, including because of sexual orientation and gender identity.” And it provides that certain grants under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act can be used for “developing, enlarging, or strengthening programs and projects to provide services and responses targeting male and female victims of domestic violence… whose ability to access traditional services and responses is affected by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
VAWA provides $650 million annually for programs to prevent domestic abuse, to train law enforcement personnel on how to handle incidents, and provide shelter and other services to victims.
According to a 2010 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, almost 45 percent of LGBT people and people with HIV who sought help from domestic violence shelters in 2010 were turned away because of “institutionalized anti-LGBTQH discrimination.”
The 22 senators voting against the bill in the Senate Tuesday were all Republicans, including Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
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