U.S. domestic abuse law expanded to protect gays, immigrants

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, the landmark 1994 law designed to curb domestic abuse in the United States.

At a packed signing ceremony at the Interior Department - the White House couldn't accommodate all the advocates who supported the measure, the president said - Obama signed an expanded version of the law that extends protection to gays, immigrants, Native Americans and sex-trafficking victims.

"One of the great legacies of this law is that it didn't just change the rules," Obama said. "It changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out ... And it made clear to victims that they were not alone, that they always had a place to go, and they always had people on their side.

"And today, because members of both parties worked together, we're able to renew that commitment," he said.

In thanking Democrats and Republicans, Obama was tacitly recognizing the bill's tough path through Congress. Republican lawmakers initially refused to support the measure, and then offered an alternative that advocates said would weaken domestic violence protections for women.

In the end, 87 Republicans in the House of Representatives and 18 in the Senate bucked party leadership to support the law and send it to Obama for his signature. (Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Paul Simao)