The U.S. Congress on Thursday approved a new version of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act including protections for same-sex couples and Native Americans who are sexually assaulted by non-Indians.

The measure, which was approved by the Senate on Feb. 12, passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday by a vote of 286-138, with many Republicans opposing the bill because of the clauses pertaining to homosexuals.

In a statement, President Barack Obama promised to sign the updated VAWA as soon as it reaches his office.

The new law authorizes $660 million per year over the next five years for domestic violence prevention programs.

In addition to the protections for gays, lesbians and Native Americans, the new version of the VAWA includes measures to combat human trafficking and help minors who are the victims of sexual trafficking.

"Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse," Obama emphasized.

"Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear," the president said.

Vice President Joe Biden was the sponsor of the VAWA almost 20 years ago when he was a senator for Delaware. EFE