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February 26, 2013

BEAM: Spread the bipartisanship, stop the violence

NEW ALBANY — Bipartisanship is a rarity nowadays within our federal government. So when the Senate extended the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Feb. 12 with a 78-22 vote, people noticed. 

More than half of all the Republican senators joined Democrats and Independents in favor. When Sens. Dan Coats and Diane Feinstein agree on something, you know the legislation must be worthwhile.

Of course, I wish this spirit of bipartisanship could be extended to fixing the nation’s budget woes before the upcoming sequestration happens. Programs, including some funding to domestic violence initiatives, will be cut at the end of this week unless Congress acts accordingly. 

But back to the matter at hand. 

The VAWA now has headed to the House for approval. Preparing to take up the bill this week, the Republican majority on Friday offered its own version of the plan. Several contentious issues were included in the Senate legislation that the House Republicans didn’t support, mainly in regards to expanding the bill to better cover gays and lesbians, Native Americans and illegal immigrants. In their legislation, the House changed the language in VAWA to reflect some of these differences.

In the House version, the act no longer explicitly stipulates protection for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT). Supporters of this contend their broader definition still encompasses gays and lesbians and a separate mention is unnecessary. 

But those within the community argue that service providers could turn away victims due to their sexual orientation. And it might be considered legal without the aforementioned protection built within the law. 

A National Violence Against Women survey found that 11 percent of lesbians and 15 percent of gay men have reported being victimized by their same-sex partner. Fear of homophobia with law enforcement and other aid agencies, not to mention their sexual orientations being made public, keep many of these abuse victims from reporting the crimes. 

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