In 1994, then Senator Joe Biden introduced a bill called the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). No one thought the bill would wipe out domestic violence overnight, but it did contain some important tools to help in the fight against domestic violence. To the credit of both political parties, the bill was passed in a bipartisan effort and was signed into law by President Clinton.
In 2000, President Clinton signed the reauthorization of VAWA -- which had again been easily passed by Congress through the bipartisan efforts of both political parties. In 2006, both parties agreed to reauthorize VAWA again and it was signed into law by President Bush.
This was not an era where bipartisanship was a common occurrence. Just as today, the Democrats and Republicans disagreed on many issues -- and those differences were vociferously aired in public debates. But both parties understood that domestic violence was a scourge and a stain on the American Dream -- and they acted together to what they could to fight it. And while VAWA did not eliminate domestic violence, it turned out to be an effective tool in fighting it. Here are some of the law's accomplishments (as related on Think Progress):
It is now 2012, and it is time for VAWA to be reauthorized and funded (which must happen every six years to keep the law in effect and fully funded). But the bipartisanship has disappeared. When Democrats tried to get the bill passed in Congress this year, it was blocked by the House Republicans. They are opposed to VAWA now because the Democrats added three new groups to the laws coverage -- Native Americans, LGBT victims, and undocumented immigrants. The Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, say they will not allow VAWA to be passed unless those three groups are removed from the law's coverage.
Personally, I don't think the Republican position on VAWA is defensible. Are they saying that it is OK to commit domestic violence against people in those three groups? Can they really believe some groups should be protected against domestic violence, while other groups should not? Shouldn't ALL humans in the United States be protected against domestic violence -- regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual preference, or documentation?
This is not an argument over what to do about illegal immigration, or whether homosexuality should be accepted. But that is what the congressional Republicans are trying to turn it into. They seem to be willing to stymie the progress against domestic violence, just so they can pander to the bigotry of many people in the party's base -- and that is appalling.
October is officially Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Will we have a new VAWA law by then? I certainly hope so, because it is the right thing to do (and that has been recognized by both parties in the past). But that is now up to the Republicans. We can only wait to see if they come to their senses and pass the law.