Mullin explains his vote against VAWA

03/11/2013 07:50 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a March 1 letter sent to tribal leaders, freshman Oklahoma Congressman and Cherokee Nation citizen Markwayne Mullin states he did not vote for the recently enacted Violence Against Women Act because of “sexual orientation” language in the bill’s non-discrimination provisions.

Mullin, who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd District, was one of 138 Republicans who voted against the act.

In addition to programmatic support for Native survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, the law includes constitutionally sound tribal jurisdiction provisions authorizing tribal governments to prosecute non-Indian defendants involved in intimate relationships with Native women and who assault these victims on tribal land. Prior to the enactment of this law, federal laws did not authorize tribal law enforcement or tribal courts to pursue any form of prosecution or justice against these perpetrators.

In his letter, Mullin writes that he was proud to sponsor House Resolution 780, which was co-written by Oklahoma Congressman and Chickasaw Nation citizen Tom Cole, because the legislation “effectively protected the sovereign rights of our tribes in dealing with cases of domestic violence against women on tribal lands.”

However, Cole’s resolution was not brought to the House floor for a vote. Cole was the only delegate out of Oklahoma’s seven, including its two senators, to vote for the passed version.

Mullin writes that he also voted against a substitute bill because of sovereignty issues brought to his attention by tribal officials. He also voted against S. 47, the bill that passed the Senate on Feb. 12 and ultimately signed into law by President Obama on March 7, because he did not agree with the entire bill.

“The language regarding ‘sexual orientation’ in the bill’s non-discrimination provisions was unacceptable to me, and in my opinion had no place in a bill whose primary intent was to deal with protecting women from domestic violence,” Mullin writes. “While the House and Senate versions had good intentions, there were details in each that ultimately made them something I could not support.”

According to the act, provisions regarding sexual orientation include:

• A non-discrimination clause that prohibits lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims from being turned away from services such as traditional shelters on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity;

• Explicitly names LGBT people as an underserved population, which allows organizations serving LGBT victims of domestic violence to receive funding from a grant program that focuses specifically on underserved populations;

• And allows states, at their discretion, to use certain grant funds to improve responses to incidents of domestic violence among LGBT people. This bolsters law enforcement, prosecution and victim service efforts within states.

Native women, tribal leaders, women’s rights advocates and domestic abuse survivors joined President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C, as he signed the act’s reauthorization into law.

“Indian Country has some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in America. And one of the reasons is that when Native American women are abused on tribal lands by an attacker who is not Native American, the attacker is immune from prosecution by tribal courts. Well, as soon as I sign this bill that ends,” Obama said. “Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear. And that is what today is all about.”

Leaders for the National Congress of Americans Indians said they have already begun focusing on coordinating the implementation of VAWA.

“Today is a great day because it marks the beginning of justice and the end to injustice that has gone unanswered for too long,” NCAI President Jefferson Keel said. “Now that the tribal provisions have been enacted and protection for all women reauthorized, justice can march forward. Local tribal authorities have much work to do to ensure that our citizens are protected from these violent crimes.”

Click here to view Markwayne Mullin’s letter to tribal leaders.


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