Monday, June 21, 2010

Domestic Violence: Equal Under The Law

There was good news from Washington recently as the Justice Department determined that the criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act apply equally to gay couples.

The decision was articulated in a memorandum by David J. Barron, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department. Barron decided that “the text, relevant case law and legislative history” support the conclusion that the law applies “when the offender and the victim are the same sex.” The act also uses gender-neutral language, referring to “another person” instead of “a woman.”

Basically the Justice Department decided that protections in the act, such as the provisions against stalking and domestic violence, apply to gay couples as well as straight couples. The memo gives guidance to federal prosecutors across the country, who will be able to apply the Violence Against Women Act to incidents of same-sex relationship violence.

The clarification to the act comes as efforts to legalize marriage equality for same-sex couples continue in the capital. Though there has been no response from social conservative groups, it is noteworthy that a member of the Justice Department from Bush administration corroborates Barron’s analysis in The New York Times as correct as a matter of statutory interpretation.

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.

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