After fighting the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act for more than a year, House Republican leaders threw in the towel Thursday and 87 GOP congressmen voted with Democrats to pass the bill 286-138.
The passage sent to President Barack Obama a renewal of the 1994 law that has been described as the standard for how to protect women, and some men, from domestic abuse and for prosecuting their abusers. The version passed Thursday extends protection to immigrants, gays, lesbians and transsexuals and allows tribal courts to try non-Indian defendants who commit assaults on tribal lands.
GOP leaders had sought to block expansion of the bill, but finally gave House Republicans, some of whom supported the measure, the go-ahead to vote for the version passed by the Democrat-led Senate.
“I knew the act would pass, but I was shocked that 87 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote up the Democratic Senate version of the act, which left in protections for Native American women, LGBT people and immigrants,” said Jamila Bey, who hosts “The Sex, Politics And Religion Hour: SPAR With Jamila” on Voice of Russia – America.
“This expansion is a wonderful thing because it provides muscle behind the laws to further protect women,” Bey continued. “There is mandated funding in this act, there are reporting requirements, and so jurisdictions actually must do the work that we know helps women to report abuse, and then get justice, and if necessary, get help.”
The law had been renewed twice before without controversy, but it lapsed in 2011 and the House refused last year to vote on the Senate version of the bill.
This year, the House version of the bill didn’t mention the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It also trimmed back the provision that would allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who attacked their Indian partners on tribal lands.
Women’s groups, Democrats, the White House, and even some Republicans balked at the diluted measure. On Tuesday, GOP leaders agreed to let the House vote on the Senate bill.
“The passage of the Violence Against Women Act is a testament to the strength of women, young and old, coming together to educate their representatives about the need for these protections,” said Chai Shenoy, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and activist.
“The historic nature of this legislation is how it looks at gender-based violence from a multitude of perspectives like immigrant women, LGBTQ couples, and Native American women. I’m proud of the advocates, attorneys, survivors and allies who worked to make sure this act continued the true feminist spirit of finding equality among all, not just for one group,” she added.
In this vote, in what may be a sign of more to come, Democrats and moderate Republicans worked together for the third time to pass legislation opposed by the conservative wing of the GOP. Other collaborations included voting to avoid the fiscal cliff and to extend Superstorm Sandy aid.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has spent months working on the less inclusive GOP version of the bill, defended the Republican plan.
“Our goal in strengthening the Violence Against Women Act is simple,” Cantor told The Associated Press. “We want to help all women who are faced with violent, abusive and dangerous situations …We want them to know that those who commit these horrendous crimes will be punished.”
The law that was passed Thursday, however, goes beyond one group of people and has become inclusive of virtually anyone. The law, essentially, is moving toward equal protection under the law for everyone.
Now there’s a concept.
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”