The U.S. Senate approved on Tuesday LGBT-inclusive legislation that reauthorizes an existing law that aims to provide help to victims of domestic violence.
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation — the reauthorization of a 1994 law known as the Violence Against Women Act — on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 78-22. It now heads to the Republican-controlled House for consideration.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, praised the Senate in a statement for approving legislation that would aid LGBT victims of domestic violence.
“To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking is terrifying and traumatic,” Carey said. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not immune from this violence and should not also fear being turned away from life-saving services because of who they are.”
In a statement, President Obama also commended the Senate for acting on a bipartisan basis to pass the domestic violence legislation.
“This important step shows what we can do when we come together across party lines to take up a just cause,” Obama said. “The bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us.”
The LGBT language found in the bill is the same language found in a bill the Senate passed last year. The House passed its own version of VAWA reauthorization that didn’t include the protections. No agreement was made on a final version of reauthorization last year, so lawmakers are renewing their efforts this year.
The VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate has language that aims to help LGBT victims of domestic violence in three ways:
• First, the legislation mandates all programs or activities that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
• Second, it explicitly includes the LGBT community in the largest VAWA grant program, the “STOP Grant Program,” which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.
• Finally, the bill sets up a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including programs that provide care specifically for LGBT people.
The bill also modifies VAWA by strengthening a tribe’s ability to respond to violence against Native American women; increasing accountability measures for grant programs; and ensuring law enforcement officials receive support to ensure rape kits are promptly tested and to reduce the countrywide backlog.
However, the legislation is different from the bill that the Senate passed last year because lawmakers removed a provision deemed controversial that increases the number of special visas allotted for undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence. According to a report in Mother Jones, there is a cap of 10,000 of these “U visas” each year, and the government consistently hits this cap.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) commended those who worked to pass the legislation in a statement and was optimistic the legislation would reach Obama’s desk.
“There is strong, bipartisan support for VAWA reauthorization, and together we can finally finish what we started last year,” Leahy said. “We are deeply indebted to the women and men around the country who have been working with us and have been steadfast in their commitment to the victims and to our efforts to combat domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.”
All 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats voted in favor of the LGBT-inclusive Senate legislation. The 23 Republicans who joined them are Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
But 22 Republicans voted against the bill: Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Idaho), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and John Thune (R-S.D.)
It’s unclear whether the Republican-controlled House will act to pass the LGBT-inclusive legislation. According to a report from The Huffington Post‘s Jennifer Bendery, a group of 17 House Republicans sent a letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Whip (R-Va.) urging them to pass a bipartisan version of VAWA reauthorization.