The 68-31 vote marked the first time since the Violence Against Women Act first passed in 1994 that its renewal has drawn opposition in the Senate, reflecting the increasing polarization of the chamber and hair-trigger political sensitivities over women's issues in this presidential and congressional election year.
"When three women a day are killed at the hands of abusive partners in our country, it was essential for the Senate to pass this legislation to protect women and their families from domestic violence," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said in a statement. She urged the House to act quickly so President Obama can sign the renewal into law.
But the path there could be equally tricky. Majority Republicans are writing their own version, which is likely to resemble a GOP alternative widely rejected by the Senate.
Twice renewed without opposition in the Senate, the bill of programs to prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse ran headlong into the partisan warfare that has shut or slowed legislative business since the 2010 elections.
Not helping smooth the way: the broader political fight for pivotal female voters and the Democrats' election-year narrative that accuses Republicans of waging a "war on women."
The bill would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for five years with funding of $659.3 million a year, down $136.5 million annually from the last act, which has expired. The money pays for such programs as legal assistance for victims, enforcement of protection orders, transitional housing and youth prevention programs.
Democrats sought to expand the law by adding protections certain to draw conservative opposition.
One would explicitly name gays, lesbians and transgender people to the group of those protected under the law. Another would raise the cap on visas granted to abused legal and illegal immigrants from 10,000 to 15,000. A third would expand the authority of Native American officials to handle cases of abuse of Indian women by non-Indians.
The bill drew 61 co-sponsors, more than enough to block filibusters and set up a political dare to Republicans: Vote no, and you're waging a "war against women."
The strategy raised hackles among Republicans, who insisted they had women's interests at heart, too. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the narrative was a distraction from issues Democrats would rather not discuss, such as the economy and gas prices.
"We face an abundance of hard choices," said McCain. "Divisive slogans and declaring of phony wars are intended to avoid those hard choices and to escape paying a political price for doing so."