An expanded Violence Against Women Act won bipartisan approval on Thursday from the U.S. House after Republicans failed to pass their own proposal due to a party split on an issue important to women and minority groups.
The measure now goes to President Barack Obama, who said in a statement that it was "an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear."
"I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk," Obama said.
Thursday's votes reflected an emerging political reality in the GOP-led House, with a minority of Republicans joining Democrats to pass legislation that has broad public support, including from increasingly influential demographics such as Hispanic Americans.
By a vote of 166-257, the GOP version of the Violence Against Women Act failed to win a majority after almost 90 minutes of debate. The House then voted 286-138 to pass the Senate version, with 87 Republicans joining all 199 Democrats to provide majority support.
Originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized since, the act provides support for organizations that serve domestic violence victims. Criminal prosecutions of abusers are generally the responsibility of local authorities, but the act stiffened sentences for stalking under federal law.
Supporters credit the act with sharply reducing the number of lives lost to domestic violence over the past two decades.
Last year, the House and Senate were unable to compromise on another extension of the act, with Republicans opposing Democratic attempts to specify inclusion of native Americans, undocumented immigrants and lesbian, transgender and bisexual women.
However, exit polls showed Obama won strong support among women, Latino voters and gay and lesbian voters in the November election that also strengthened the Democratic majority in the Senate and weakened the Republican majority in the House.
Republicans then changed their stance and agreed to bring up the measure in the new Congress as long as they could offer their own version.
The Republican proposal deleted provisions from the Senate measure that gave tribal authorities jurisdiction to prosecute cases on Indian reservations, specifically targeted discrimination of LGBT victims, and allowed undocumented immigrant survivors of domestic violence to seek legal status.
In debate before Thursday's votes, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, said the Senate version includes legal precedents of expanded sovereignty that could be subject to court challenge.
"Please consider the damage we have done if a court overturns this act and its protection all because we wanted a good slogan instead of a good law," Cramer said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and others repeatedly questioned why Republicans would seek to weaken a measure that received strong bipartisan support in a 78-22 Senate vote earlier this year.
A majority of Senate Republicans backed the act, along with every woman senator regardless of party, Pelosi noted.
"It's really hard to explain why, what eyes the Republicans are looking through, that they do not see the folly of their ways in the legislation they are proposing," Pelosi said.
Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, herself a rape victim, paraphrased the question of rights activist Sojourner Truth, a 19th century escaped slave and civil rights advocate.
"Ain't they women?" Moore shouted in reference to native American, undocumented immigrant and LGBT women.
In response, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington challenged Democratic claims that the GOP version excluded any women, saying it was all-inclusive.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said the goal was to "make sure all women are safe," and he described the Republican version as an attempt to "improve on" what the Senate sent over.
However, Pelosi noted that hundreds of advocacy groups supported the Senate version as the best way forward.
"This is a remarkable day because we have clarity between the two proposals," she said, noting one had support from both parties in the Senate and the president while the other was opposed by "almost everybody who has anything to do with the issue of violence against women."
The final vote on Thursday followed the same pattern as votes on other legislation at the end of the previous Congress, including the agreement to avoid some impacts of the fiscal cliff.
A divide between conservative and more moderate Republicans prevented House GOP leaders from being able to pass their proposed fiscal cliff legislation at the end of the year.
Under public pressure ratcheted up by Obama, the House ended up approving a Democratic proposal that raised taxes on the nation's top income earners, a key campaign theme in the November election opposed by the GOP.