A Republican-controlled House panel beat back measures on Tuesday that would have made LGBT protections part of legislation aiming to extend federal authorization for domestic violence programs.
The House Judiciary Committee voted down several measures that would have made the House version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization LGBT-inclusive.
One amendment that was offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — voted down on a 14-18 vote — would have prohibited domestic violence programs receiving funds under VAWA from discriminating against someone based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The Violence Against Women Act needs to be an inclusive bill that covers all of today’s families, whether those families are composed of a man and a woman, or two women or two men, and that’s why I’m offering this amendment,” said Polis, who’s gay.
Polis continued, “It doesn’t say anything about a particular lifestyle that members of the committee may not agree personally agree with. It simply says the law needs to be applied equally.”
Prior to the vote on the amendment, anti-gay Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) voiced opposition, saying other characteristics such as race and sex are immutable, but sexual orientation and gender identity are “self-professed” identifications.
“I also make the point that this is supposed to be the Violence Against Women Act,” King said. “Even though that is the case and that needs to be the subject of this discussion; we still are bringing up the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity when people no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity are covered under this bill.”
King called for more data that LGBT non-discrimination protections are needed for domestic violence programs and said other vehicles would be more appropriate for dealing with this bias other than the Violence Against Women Act.
But Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) responded by saying the committee shouldn’t be “in the business of limiting” protections that would be afforded under the legislation.
Another amendment came from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that would have explicitly included the LGBT community in VAWA’s “STOP Grant Program.” It was voted down along party lines by a 12-15 vote.
“With this addition, STOP grant recipients would be able to offer programs to target members of the LGBT community who are not otherwise being served,” Nadler said. “This would not be a requirement of any STOP grant recipient, but would allow entities to use STOP grants for this purpose if they so choose.”
The “STOP Grant Program” is the largest program funded under the law and provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.
Yet another amendment from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) would have explicitly included sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the underserved groups protected under VAWA. Like the others, the measure was voted down on a party-line basis, 13-16.
In his remarks introducing the amendment, Quigley criticized the House version of VAWA reauthorization for not going far enough to protect LGBT victims of domestic violence as well as other groups.
“Domestic violence affects people from all walks of life, whether they are gay, straight, immigrants or tribal members,” Quigley said. “Everyone deserves to be protected. Sadly the bill being considered by the committee today fails to meet the mark.”
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) voiced opposition in particular to the Quigley amendment, saying “there is little data” to support the need for “special protected status” for LGBT people.
“There’s nothing under current federal law to prevent LGBT victims of domestic violence from receiving federal resources and services,” Smith said.
The House version of VAWA aims to extend programs authorized under the existing law — first enacted in 1994 — to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. But civil rights groups have criticized the House version of the bill for not going far enough and failing to provide explicit protections for minorities, including LGBT people.
Data exists showing that LGBT people are victims of domestic violence and suffer from discrimination when seeking help at shelters. According to a 2010 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 44.6 percent of LGBT domestic violence survivors were turned away by a shelter and 54.4 percent of LGBT survivors seeking an order of protection were denied help.
Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized Republicans for refusing to adopt the Polis amendment.
“LGBT victims of domestic violence often face significant discriminatory barriers when attempting to access services,” Thompson said. “The Polis amendment would have addressed this problem of LGBT exclusion by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to VAWA’s nondiscrimination provision. This is a matter of basic fairness and commonsense. It is unfortunate that a majority of the House Judiciary Committee disagreed.”
Harsh words also came from Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
“The Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee have failed victims of domestic violence,” Solmonese said. “Republicans on the committee ignored key priorities identified by nearly 2,000 service providers and victim advocates by moving forward with a bill that disregards many victims, including LGBT victims.”
After rejecting the pro-LGBT measures, the committee voted to report out the legislation by a vote of 17-15 — again on largely a party-line basis with Republicans voting to move their bill.
The language of House Democrats’ amendments are found in the Senate version of the bill, which was passed by that chamber April 26 on bipartisan vote of 68-31 along with LGBT-inclusive language. Because the Senate version of the legislation has LGBT language that isn’t found in the House version of the bill, the two chambers will have to come an agreement on the LGBT provisions in conference committee before the House and Senate vote on a final version of the bill.
Despite the failure of the committee to adopt the pro-LGBT amendments, Thompson expressed optimism that the LGBT language would survive the conference committee and the final round of voting based on the bipartisan support with which the Senate version of the bill passed.
“The reality is that the Senate’s version of VAWA reauthorization addresses a range of important civil liberties issues, including coverage for the LGBT community, and passed out of that chamber with the support of 68 senators, including significant Republican support,” Thompson said. “I believe there is majority support in Congress for a VAWA reauthorization that would ensure that domestic violence protections extend to all who suffer its harms.”
Other members on the House panel spoke out against the lack of LGBT protections in the House version of the bill, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the panel, as well as Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas).
But the House Democrats’ measure weren’t the only pro-LGBT initiatives that Republicans rejected. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the committee, offered a substitute bill that was modeled on a version of VAWA introduced by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and other House Democrats. That legislation has the same LGBT protections found in the Senate version of the bill.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) refused to allow Conyers’ substitute to come up after Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) objected to it on the basis that it was non-germane. In the House, amendments must be germane to the legislation at hand for them to come up for a vote.
The committee rejected the pro-LGBT initiatives after HRC and the ACLU wrote letters objecting to the lack of LGBT protections in the House version of the legislation.
In a letter dated May 7, Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, and Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel, talked about the importance of the LGBT protections found in the Senate bill in addition to expressing other concerns.
“H.R. 4970 does nothing to address the unacceptable discrimination that LGBT people often face when attempting to access services for those who experience intimate-partner violence, and nothing to change the fact that the LGBT community is undeserved in this area,” Murphy and Leveille write.
NOTE: This post has been updated.