After a year of Congressional infighting, President Obama has signed into law a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—a move that’s being seen as a big win for gay rights activists and Native Americans.
On Thursday, the president was joined by domestic violence survivors, lawmakers and tribal leaders for the signing ceremony at the Interior Department.
“This is your day. The day of survivors,” said Obama. He added “this victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.”
Vice President Joe Biden—who sponsored the original legislation 19 years ago—also spoke.
“With all the law’s success, there are still too many women in this country who live in fear of violence” Biden said, but added “every time we reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, we improved it.”
The legislation includes new protections for gay and lesbian Americans, including a provision that allows groups representing them to apply for grants to prevent sexual violence. It also gives tribal courts the authority to prosecute non-Indians who attack Native Americans on tribal lands.
The original legislation expired in 2011 and was held up in Congress. House GOPers initially rallied against the additions protecting LGBT people and Native Americans when the Senate included them in a bill last year. They argued there were constitutional concerns surrounding the prosecution of non-Indian criminals on tribal lands. GOPers tried to pass their version of the bill, which the left argued did not do enough to protect gay couples and Native Americans. That initiative failed 166-257.
The bill eventually passed in the House in January by a 286 to 138 vote, with all Democrats supporting it.
The renewal greenlights about $660 million a year over five years to fund programs that provides grants for law enforcement, legal assistance and transitional housing for victims. It also continues a national domestic violence hotline and protection for victims that carries across state lines.
“This is a country where everyone should be able to pursue their happiness no matter who you are, no matter who you love,” said Obama.