Friday, June 11, 2010

Expanded DV Protections for Gay Couples

The US Justice Department has directed federal prosecutors to enforce the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act with gay and lesbian couples as well.

Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said that the office’s conclusion had been sent as guidance to federal prosecutors around the country.

Ms. Schmaler said she could not answer questions about the context of the request because it was a matter of internal deliberations.

But Brian Moulton, the chief legislative counsel of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, said his group asked the Obama transition team after the 2008 election to have the office “clarify” for prosecutors that the Violence Against Women Act covers violence that might arise in same-sex relationships.

“It’s a step towards equality and recognizing that our relationships exist and are subject to the same sorts of issues that face other committed couples,” Mr. Moulton said. “Unfortunately, sometimes that is domestic violence and other issues that need to be dealt with through the criminal justice system.”

Congress first passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Among other things, its provisions made it a federal crime to cross state lines with the intent of committing domestic violence, stalking, or violating a protection order. Lawmakers have since expanded the act several times.

The federal government’s treatment of gay and lesbian relationships has been a matter of sharp dispute against the backdrop of efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

A 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, requires the federal government to define legal terms like “marriage” and “spouse” as categories that can exist only with a union between one man and one woman.

But Mr. Barron argued in the memorandum that although the Violence Against Women Act defines possible victims as including the “spouse” of the abuser, the act also includes terms not covered by the Defense of Marriage Act, like “dating partner” and “intimate partner.”

Moreover, he noted, the text of the act uses gender-neutral language, like saying “another person” instead of “a woman.” He cited such language as proof that Congress intended the protections to cover same-sex couples as well as heterosexual ones.

Domestic violence in same-gender relationships is a serious issue that occurs at approximately the same rates as violence in opposite-gender relationships. Additional barriers exist for GLBT individuals, however, because they may fear homophobia from law enforcement, advocates, or even other residents of the shelter if they try to seek help. Regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, no one deserves to be abused. GLBTQQI survivors in the Atlanta area can call the United 4 Safety helpline at 404-200-5957 or our 24-hotline at 404-688-9436. We will help you create a plan that takes into account your unique needs and barriers and helps you create a new life of safety for yourself.

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