By Bob Gatty
Republicans are showing no inclination to change their priorities. Gun rights and gay bashing are still right there at the top of their lists.
That was evident last week when obsession with gun rights and intolerance for members of the LGBTQ community appeared to be enough for 172 Republicans to vote against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) when it was passed by the House of Representatives last Wednesday. Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC-7) was among those Republicans who voted against the bill.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposed a provision closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” That’s all many Republicans needed to hear.
While existing federal law forbids people convicted of domestic violence against a current or former spouse to buy or own a firearm, the new legislation would extend the prohibition to those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a dating partner, or to those under a court restraining order.
That was too much for the NRA, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, and for the GOP members of Congress who do its bidding, saying it infringes on gun rights, which, after all, is far more important than protecting women and other domestic partners from getting shot.
Said Jason Oimet, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, “The NRA did not oppose VAWA for its first 25 years. And today, we only oppose the gun control provisions contained within.”
Declared Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA):
“If you want to protect women, make sure women are gun owners and know how to defend themselves. That’s the greatest defense for women.”
The original law, originally enacted in 1994, having been introduced by then-Sen. Joe Biden, lapsed in 2018, but alarming reports about a rise in domestic violence during pandemic lockdowns persuaded many lawmakers that it needed to be reinstated.
The House approved bill expands some of the original law’s protections and creates some new ones. It’s gender neutral because intimate-partner violence is not limited to heterosexual relationships. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner violence and/or stalking.
As Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian explained, the act improves services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It provides new protections for young victims of violence, including adding funds to improve screening for intimate partner violence. It ensures that violence survivors can remain housed in the event of a breakup with a spouse and creates protections for Native American women through tribal registries for sex offenders and those who have been ordered to stay away from victims.
“And yet about half of all intimate partner homicides are committed by current or former dating partners,” she wrote. “Closing this loophole doesn’t just makes sense. It’s imperative. States that prevent abusive dating partners from owning guns have 16 percent fewer intimate partner gun homicides, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology.”
“This bill opens the door of the armor of the federal government and its protection of women who continue to lose their life and men,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-TX) and one of its principal authors. “Yes, it is a culturally sensitive initiative that protects immigrant women, it protects Native Americans, it protects poor women.”
The VAWA also includes a provision that would create the first grant program dedicated to supporting LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. That amendment was sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL).
“The Violence Against Women Act is about saving lives and ensuring justice for survivors who have suffered in silence for too long,” Pressley told NBC News. “But until now, Congress’s efforts have overlooked the hurt and harm felt by LGBTQ+ survivors, especially trans women of color. I’m proud that this year’s Violence Against Women Act included my provision to create grants and services dedicated to serving members of the LGBTQ+ community. I am grateful to Rep. Newman for her partnership on this priority and look forward to seeing this critical legislation signed into law.”
Newman said violence against trans Americans, “particularly Black and Brown transgender women, has become a national epidemic.”
“On top of this harsh reality is the alarming rate at which LGBTQ+ survivors cannot access services solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she said. “This new grant program is specifically designed to combat domestic violence against LGBTQ+ individuals through prevention education, outreach, training to victim service organizations and other entities. We cannot allow ourselves to ignore this gross injustice any longer. We must do more to protect all women, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer women.”
Add those provisions to the “boyfriend loophole” protections opposed by the NRA and it was just a bridge too far for many Republicans, as Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) complained.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) demonstrated still more Republican narrowmindedness, complaining that transgender people, whom he referred to as “biological males,” would be housed in shelters and prisons with females.
“It seems to me that many on the left decided that could use this critical legislation that’s intended to protect women and girls from violence as a vehicle to promote their far-left political agenda,” Chabot said.
Perhaps, Mr. Congressman, Democrats are simply recognizing the realities that exist today and are trying to act responsibly in providing protections for those who truly need them. It’s not all that complicated.
Now, the bill goes to the Senate where President Biden hopes the bill will be approved.
“Growing evidence shows that Covid-19 has only exacerbated the threat of intimate partner violence, creating a pandemic within a pandemic for countless women at risk for abuse,” he said. “This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue — it’s about standing up against the abuse of power and preventing violence,” he said.
But, that old bugaboo, the filibuster, is likely to doom its passage unless changes in those procedures are made so it can be passed with a simple majority vote. There is no reason to expect GOP attitudes in the Senate will be any more enlightened than those in the House.