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Obama signs LGBT-inclusive domestic violence bill

Thursday, March 7, 2013
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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill into law.

For the first time, the landmark measure includes protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors of domestic violence. It also includes enhanced protections for Native American and immigrant survivors, and campus safety provisions.

Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday during a ceremony at the Interior Department.
Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

The 1994 federal law provides funds to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault, and it bolsters victim services programs.

Flanked by domestic-violence survivors, lawmakers, law enforcement officers and tribal leaders, Obama signed the extension to the Act in a ceremony at the Interior Department, which overseas programs for Native Americans. A key provision of the expanded law strengthens protections for victims who are attacked on tribal land.

Although the law was renewed twice in the past with little resistance, it lapsed in 2011 when Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree on a bill to renew it.

The Republican-controlled House rejected a Senate-passed version making clear that lesbians, gays and immigrants should have equal access to the law’s programs.

The Senate bill also allowed tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who attack their Indian partners on tribal lands, giving Native American authorities the ability to go after crimes that federal prosecutors, for lack of resources, often decline to pursue.

In February, House Republicans capitulated and allowed a vote on an almost identical version of the bill. It passed 286-138. It was the third time in two months that House Speaker John Boehner let a Democratic-supported bill reach the floor despite opposition from a majority of his own party — a clear sign that Republicans wanted to put the issue behind them after performing poorly among women in November’s election.

The president said the original law “changed our culture.” Obama praised Vice President Joe Biden, who wrote the bill in 1994, for making violence prevention one of his top priorities.

Developing story, check back for updates.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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