Marsha Blackburn Votes Against VAWA, But Why?

Usually when we think of the glass ceiling being moved higher and higher, we think of men as the ones doing the moving. This week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) showed us that that is not always the case when she defended her vote against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA).

The VAWA, which did end up passing last month in the House 286-138, will go to the president’s desk on Thursday to be signed. The law, which was originally put in place in 1994 and sponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden, has improved its standing to hold offenders accountable. It expands law enforcement’s authority in domestic and sexually violent circumstances, implements better measures to ensure that all women have access to the services available, and allows coverage to women in the LGBTQ, Native American, and immigrant communities. The last change is the most contentious among Republicans, including Blackburn. In an interview on MSNBC, Blackburn said:

"I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups. What you need is something that is focused specifically to help these shelters and to help our law enforcement who is trying to work with the crimes that have been committed against women and helping them to stand up."

Last month when the Senate voted on the reinstatement of the law, lawmakers such as Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were rebuked for their votes against it. While it is backward of them not to vote "yea" for this type of legislation in the 21st century, it is fathomable. For a woman to vote against legislation such as this, it is much more surprising considering the provisions in the law that would protect her and other women. One would think that those provisions would be compelling enough to vote for the law’s passage. Alas, it seems that Blackburn’s prejudices against minority groups are too strong for her to vote for the protection of women like her against domestic violence.

For what it's worth in the context of gender advocacy, Blackburn prefers to be referred to as Congressman Blackburn rather than Congresswoman. 

This law is important, and for the women it protected during its previous tenure, it was successful. Between 1993 and 2010 the rate of violence between intimate partners declined 67%. That is huge! Additionally, more instances of domestic violence are being reported to the police and are dealt with through arrests. 

The expansion of the law to cover the “different groups,” as Blackburn calls them, is absolutely necessary considering that three out of every five Native American women will endure violence by an intimate partner. Similarly, one out of every three to one out of every four same-sex relationships has endured domestic violence. The rate for heterosexual relationships is one out of four, thus showing women in same-sex relationships are fighting a very similar battle to that of heterosexual women. They deserve protection, too.

Blackburn has served in the House of Representatives since 2002. Always a staunch conservative, she has scored 100% five times on the American Conservative Union’s assessment on party loyalty. Her vote on the VAWA reflects those conservative attitudes. Her voting record can be viewed here

On Thursday when the President signs the bill, Joe Biden will be in attendance along with representatives from women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, and advocates against domestic violence, and members of Congress. The "snowquester" will not stop this important legislation from being signed and celebrated.

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Stephanie Northwood

Pursuing BA in Political Science at Allegheny College, to graduate in May 2013, most interested in health and foreign policy, Progressive.

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