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Obama Signs Landmark Domestic Violence Legislation

Posted by attorney Edwin Castellanos

President Obama recently signed into law the Federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which expands protections for women who become victims to domestic violence.

The Federal Violence Against Women Act (“Act") originally passed in 1994 as part of a larger crime bill. It was reauthorized twice. In 2011, while attempts were made to reauthorize the law but failed due to Republican concerns over expanded protections for undocumented immigrants and same-sex couples.

What is significant about the Act? The newest version of the Act that recently passed expands jurisdiction of American Indian tribal courts to reach non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence on tribal lands. This law also authorizes over $659 million a year over a five year period for domestic violence programs, such as transitional housing programs, legal assistance, law enforcement training and hotlines. The Act reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, adding stalking to the list of crimes that make immigrants eligible for protection. The Act also allegedly includes LGBT anti-discrimination provisions intended to protect LGBT victims of domestic abuse. The Act specifically addresses domestic violence protections for members of the LGBT community and supports LGBT victims in several important ways:

The Act requires that any domestic violence programs receiving federal funds under the Act must provide services regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity; The LGBT community is included in a federal grant program that provides additional funding to law enforcement officials who are working to address domestic violence issues; A new grant program will allegedly be established with the intent of providing services and outreach to underserved communities, including specific programs targeted to the LGBT community.

The Act is an important step forward for members of the LGBT community. The Act is being reauthorized while we await the United States Supreme Court decision regarding California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA"), a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state purposes in this country. While the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and DOMA has yet to be determined, President Obama is making a steady progression towards increasing recognition of the LGBT community within the scope of protections addressed by federal legislation.

No less significant will be the expansion of tribal court jurisdiction over non-Indians. Tribes had no prior jurisdiction over non-tribal members, even if they were married to Native women living on native lands. The constitutionality of granting this kind of power to tribal courts may be suspect and we clearly could see court challenges in the near future. Meanwhile, tribal leaders will have to re-examine their own legal codes to ensure defendants receive the same the rights offered to non-Indians in state and federal courts throughout this nation.

You can read more about the expanded legislation signed by President Obama at The New York Times, in an article posted by Jackie Calmes on March 7, 2013.

If you need help with domestic violence in Los Angeles, or if you would like a FREE consult with a domestic violence attorney, please contact a Los Angeles domestic violence lawyer at Castellanos & Associates, APLC at (323) 655-2105. The initial consultation is FREE and confidential.

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