Professor Suzanne Reynolds says the Violence Against Women Act helps prevent discrimination

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that President Barack Obama signed earlier this month will mean more services and more comprehensive coverage for victims of domestic violence, local activists say.

“Since the Violence Against Women Act has been in effect, we’ve been able to have programs and services that we would not be able to have without it,” said DeWanna Hamlin, coordinator of prevention and education for the Safe Relationships division of Family Services Inc. in Winston-Salem.

 The law now provides new protections for gays and lesbians and Native Americans.

Suzanne Reynolds, a professor of law at Wake Forest University, said the reauthorization bill doesn’t change any federal or state laws about extending domestic violence protections to gay and lesbian couples.

“It doesn’t change any state laws,” she said. “It simply provides that when gay and lesbian survivors try to access services, the state administrators and service providers should not discriminate.”

In North Carolina, a partner in a same-sex relationship can obtain a domestic violence restraining order under a section that deals with people who live in the same household. However, the law doesn’t provide a way for a person to file for a restraining order in a same-sex relationship if the couple are just dating but not living together. That part of the law is limited to heterosexual couples, Reynolds said.

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