Thursday, May 17, 2012

House Reduces Protections Under the Violence Against Women Act

On September 13, 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act (Title IV, §§40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994; Public Law 103-322). The aim of the Act was to fund investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women, to impose automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allow civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.  The Act also provided “anonymity to victims of domestic abuse who are applying for residency visas so that their applications cannot be sabotaged by their alleged abusers.” Also, to encourage cooperation with law enforcement officials, witnesses are provided with an opportunity to apply for special residency, and eventually permanent residence.  The Act has already been renewed twice, with bipartisan support.

However, the last Bill authorizing the continuation of the Act expired in 2011. The Senate has approved a Bill expanded protections for lesbians, immigrants and Native Americans and passed with bipartisan support with a vote of 68-31.  However, on Wednesday the House of Representatives passed their version of the Bill, stripping away the protections for immigrants who are subjected to such violence or who witness such acts of violence.  Some feel the House Bill will discourage immigrant women from reporting abuse for fear of being deported.  At the same time, the House Bill also makes it more difficult for Native American women to seek justice against their abusers; the House version also provides no protection for the LGBT community.

As for the elimination of protections for immigrant women, it is argued that this may be the only way to prevent fraud and abuse of the system by women seeking citizenship in the United States.  However, it is countered that all visa applications from immigrant victims already go through extensive review and require extensive documentation.  

With such limitations put in place by the House of Representatives, the Violence Against Women Act will cease to protect women from abuse as the original Act intended.  The House ignores the needs of immigrant women, Native Americans and the LGBT community, classes of women that need at least the same protection as all other female citizens.  And the justification of preventing fraud by immigrant women seems unfounded; this Act has already been renewed twice without previous Congresses feeling the need to add such limitations, and safeguards are already in place in the visa process to reduce the risk of fraud.  It is believed that the House version of this Bill will be vetoed without removing the restrictions, restoring the Act to its original intentions.  Whether through veto or other manner, hopefully the House and Senate can reach agreement on renewing the Act in a way that will ensure protection for all.

Further information can be found at these articles from the Huffington Post and Los Angeles Times

Thursday, May 10, 2012

President Obama Supports Gay Marriage

In the wake of North Carolina’s vote on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in the state, some positive news arose for same sex couples and gay right activists on Wednesday. Previously, Vice President Joe Biden had expressed his opinion that same sex couples should be allowed to marry, and yesterday President Barack Obama (finally) expressed his support of same sex marriage.

The President stated that “he had weighed the teachings of his Christian faith against a growing pro-marriage consensus among younger Americans — a key target group for his reelection campaign.” Administration officials also stated that Obama planned to make his express support of gay marriage known prior to the Democratic National Convention, but the announcement was moved up due to Vice President Biden’s Sunday comments on “Meet the Press”.

President Obama had previously stated that his views on same sex marriage were “evolving”, and many had believed that he was a supporter of same sex marriage. The President has previously shown he was pro-gay with action such as repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell”; however, the President also has come under criticism from gay rights activists when he stated he did not plan to sign legislation that would ban discrimination by federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Until yesterday, the failure of the President to express his viewpoint on the topic was beginning to create tension amongst gay right activists.

Some view this statement as a possible election strategy: hoping that an express support of gay marriage will bring in the votes to ensure the President’s re-election. However, there are many that say this statement may actually chase away supporters, and believe that, due to this possible alienation of voters, this statement must be the President’s true opinion.

The Washington Post, along with this article on the President’s statement, has this article discussing the divide in the community this statement has made. Some who supported the President during his first election and were proud to support an African American President now say that they “don’t believe in skin color more than [they] believe in God’s word.” Some believe that the statement will not outweigh his other acts as President, and some believe that the President may change his mind on the subject before the election. And some people believe that, no matter the motivation behind the statement, this was the right thing to do.

No matter the motivation, this will most certainly open voters’ eyes and give them something additional to consider when casting their ballots in November. Until then, it is impossible to know the full effect of the President’s statement. And even then, it will be impossible to tell whether this statement was a deciding factor in how people voted, or if it is merely one additional action that people feel added to the President’s accomplishments or was just another negative aspect of his Presidency.

No matter the outcome of this November’s election, it is my opinion that it is definitely a positive to finally have somebody in such an authority position take a stand in support of gay rights; while this may not affect how I vote in November, it gives me hope that the country and its politicians may finally be open to taking measures to protect gay rights.