By Lisa Keen
Despite a warning that President Obama may exercise his veto power, the U.S. House on May 16, approved a version of the Violence Against Women Act that omits provisions, approved in the Senate, to help LGBT victims of domestic violence.
R. Clarke Cooper, head of the national Log Cabin Republican group, issued a statement prior to the vote urging rejection of the House VAWA bill.
“Nobody should be able to get away with domestic abuse just because their victim is gay, transgender, an immigrant or Native American,” said Cooper, “and nobody should be denied help in recovering from abuse.”
Cooper noted that at least three Republican representatives tried to push for inclusion of LGBT provisions. They include Judy Biggert and Bob Dold of Illinois, and Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told a story about a female victim of domestic abuse, noting, among other things, that the woman’s husband had called their oldest son “a sexual orientation epithet and put beer in the baby bottle of their youngest child.” But Gowdy, refusing to yield the floor when his time was up, passionately urged the House bill to “stop the manufactured wars that pit one group of Americans against another group of Americans” and pass the House bill.
But on the floor of the House Wednesday, Cole said nothing about elimination of LGBT protections and urged support of the House VAWA.
Opposition to the House version and concern about elimination of provisions for LGBT victims came from Democrats.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) urged rejection of the bill, noting that it failed to include language to allow grants to groups focusing on the underserved population of LGBT victims.
Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), the author of the House VAWA, acknowledged being called “homophobic” but said the bill’s gender neutral language protects “all victims” of domestic abuse.
But Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) made an impassioned argument that “gender neutral language is not sufficient.”
“Gay men are not turned away from shelters because they are men,” said Quigley. “They’re turned away because of discrimination based on their sexual orientation.”
“I know there are folks who don’t in any way possibly have a pro-gay vote on it,” said Quigley, “but this is protecting human beings. It’s the right thing to do.”
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) also lambasted exclusion of LGBT language in the House version.
“My Republican friends in this body have insisted on taking back crucial protections for abused victims, said Sanchez. “This Republican bill,” she said, “pretends the LGBT community doesn’t exist and would allow victim service organizations to discriminate against LGBT victims when they seek help.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of San Francisco and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) of Los Angeles also faulted the House VAWA for leaving out language to help LGBT victims.
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.”
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. Both see it as an important tool in attracting support from women voters.
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 next step for VAWA reauthorization is a Senate-House conference committee to hammer out a final version of the bill to be sent back to each floor for final approval.
The White House issued a statement May 15, identifying President Obama’s objections to the House bill including that,”The bill also fails to include language that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT victims in VAWA grant programs.” The statement indicated that, if Congress sends President Obama the House version of the legislation, his senior advisors “would recommend that he veto the bill.”
The White House also issued a statement opposing language in a House bill reauthorizing Department of Defense spending. Among its 31 specifically identified objections to H.R. 4310 was an objection to language, introduced by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), prohibiting the use of base facilities for wedding ceremonies by same-sex couples. One section, 536, states, “The Armed Forces shall accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality.” Section 537 prohibits the use of military property for “a marriage or marriage-like ceremony involving anything other than the union of one man with one woman.”
“The Administration strongly objects to sections 536 and 537,” said the May 15 White House statement, “because those provisions adopt unnecessary and ill-advised policies that would inhibit the ability of same-sex couples to marry or enter a recognized relationship under State law.”
The statement threatened to veto the Defense authorization bill only on three of the 31 objections. The LGBT objections were not among the veto threats.
The defense authorization bill passed the House Armed Services Committee on May 9. Debate began on the House floor following the VAWA vote.