As talk of the sequestration grew louder and louder in the United States, a less gripping but far more fundamental issue at the heart of American society was quietly being resolved on Capitol Hill.
After expiring in 2011, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and will go onto President Barack Obama’s desk, where the president will happily sign it into law. The renewal also carries with it a reinstatement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provides essential medical services to victims of human trafficking.
The only opposition to the bill came from 138 Republican congressmen and 22 Republican senators, well over half of the party’s elected presence on Capitol Hill. For them, concerns over new provisions expanding protection to the LGBT community and immigrants overruled the need to better help women and victims of the sex trade needing redress and comfort when faced with domestic violence or sexual crimes.
The idea that VAWA sat for more than a year is sign enough of a dysfunctional government, but that’s not quite the heart of the issue.
Though lack of support for same-sex marriage and illegal immigrants within the GOP is not new or surprising, the battle over VAWA reveals a party in deep political trouble because of its outdated views on social equality.
Initially signed into law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act is a landmark piece of legislation that improves the criminal justice response to violence against women and improves victims’ access to services to both feel safe and rebuild their lives. Since the bill’s passage, intimate partner violence has declined 67 percent, and the rate of intimate partner homicide for females has declined by 35 percent, according to the White House’s official website. Every woman in the Senate voted to reauthorize VAWA, and it is unconscionable that GOP objections to the extension of the law to the LGBT community blocked the law from being reauthorized when it expired in October 2011.
Attitudes like these are not forgotten by voters, especially those that are most affected by the law. Obama’s victory over Gov. Mitt Romney with 55 percent of the female vote in the 2012 election is proof enough of that.
Not to be deterred, some members of the GOP demonstrated awareness of their lack of support from women, but simultaneously demonstrated their ignorance over equally important groups, such as homosexual and transgender people.
Though 87 of the GOP’s more enlightened representatives supported the final version of the House bill, the majority of the party opted to first hold a vote on the GOP’s version of the bill, which stripped all references to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” when it came to classifying groups who qualify as underserved communities, essentially making them ineligible to receive those services.
Not only did the measure fail, but its failure reveals a sick sense of priority within the GOP, which is apparently willing to continue denying services to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking to make a statement about the party’s refusal to support gay and transgender rights. It’s further evidence that some members of the Republican Party view politics as a game and are largely blind to the impact their decisions have on real people.
The alternate version that Speaker of the House John Boehner allowed to come to a vote is additionally preposterous, because it appears to be a political move that allowed those republicans who didn’t vote for the final bill to say that they supported a version of it. Boehner must have known that the alternate version didn’t have a chance of passing, but he allowed it to come to a vote anyway, at best just wasting time and at worst providing a cover for those who didn’t want the original version to pass.
Consider republican Congressman Steve King, who voted for the alternate bill (not the bill that became law), and posted the following misleading quote to his website: “Today I voted in support of the House version to see that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have access to the resources and protection when they need it the most.”
Something we can be sure King will not follow up with is an explanation that the very version he voted for did not become law and was even rejected by some members of his own party.
It’s time for the Republican Party to start seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to important legislation such as VAWA, regardless of small disagreements with the bill’s language. Playing political games with essential services for victims of crimes is no way to represent constituents. Fiddling thumbs while denying services to the LGBT community does not bode well for the future, and the 87 republicans who voted in support of the final version should be commended.
If only the rest of the GOP would follow their lead.
Nathaniel Haas is a freshman majoring in economics and political science.