One measure of how far Congress has fallen can be found in the history of the Violence Against Women Act.
The act was born three decades ago as a bipartisan effort to address what everyone knew: too many American women were not safe. They weren’t safe in their homes. They weren’t safe in their workplaces. They weren’t safe in their relationships.
That is still true, but now the Violence Against Women Act is no longer bipartisan. Republican support for the act, which must be renewed every few years, has declined with each renewal. The last renewal was supposed to come in 2018, but Republican control of both houses prevented that. Now the act has passed the Democratic-controlled House, but 172 Republicans voted against it. Now it must pass the evenly split Senate.
The principal benefit of VAWA is money — federal funding that is used for support programs for victims, including hotlines where abuse victims can find hope and answers. It pays for their legal aid, and it supports safety programs in indigenous communities and other vulnerable populations.
It also enforces protective orders in states other than the one that issued them, a crucial element for those who move out of state to avoid an abuser.
So what are the holdups for Republicans? Guns and gender.
On guns, the VAWA reauthorization has language intended to close the “boyfriend loophole.” Current law allows states to deny gun ownership to those who have court-ordered protective orders or have been convicted of abusing a spouse or cohabitant, but that does not apply to those who only dated their victims. The National Rifle Association opposes that change.
The update also extends protection to transgender individuals, including a specific requirement that women’s shelters allow transgender women. Republican opponents have said that will make the shelters less safe, but there is no evidence of that.
In both cases, VAWA’s opponents are focusing on the micro and ignoring the macro. Who exactly are they looking out for? People with a violent history who want to carry guns? People who think transgender people are dangerous to be around? Somehow, these threats are larger than the 2 million women who are assaulted and 5 million who are stalked each year?
Utahns should contact Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney and let them know that the safety of millions of Americans should not lose out to the culture wars. The Violence Against Women Act deserves their full support when it comes up for a Senate vote.