Pennsylvania Hate Crimes Law Ruled Unconstitutional
Score one for the homo-haters in Pennsylvania. A state court has ruled that a 2002 expansion of the state’s LGBT hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and physical disability unconstitutional because the hate crimes language was added to an unrelated bill dealing with agricultural vandalism.
Commonwealth Court’s 4-1 ruling handed a victory to a conservative Christian group called Repent America, which filed a lawsuit in 2005 challenging the amendment of the state hate-crimes law three years earlier.
Repent America founder and leader Michael Marcavage, one of the plaintiffs, was among the organization’s members who were arrested in the fall of 2004 for picketing a Philadelphia street festival for gays and lesbians and evangelizing that homosexuality is a sin.
They were acquitted of ethnic intimidation , Pennsylvania’s version of a hate crimes law , and other charges, but feared they would be charged with the same crime if they staged similar protests in the future, Marcavage said Thursday.
Marcavage and six other group members argued that the amendment was passed unconstitutionally because it replaced language in a bill that dealt with agricultural vandalism and crop destruction.
“We believe that the Legislature in Pennsylvania did not have the proper opportunity to review what was being passed,” Marcavage said. “If they didn’t have any concern about it, they should have just presented it as it was.”
Judge James Gardner Colins wrote in the majority opinion that the final legislation bore no resemblance to the original bill by the time it was passed and signed into law by then-Gov. Mark Schweiker, even though both versions dealt with crime.
“We emphasize that no matter how salutary the purpose of a bill may be, it still must comport with constitutionally mandated requirements for passage,” Colins wrote.
The forces of gay goodness and light led by Stacey Sobel of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania are not giving up the fight though. They are continuing to fight for the rights of LGBT Pennsylvanians including advocating for a non-discrimination bill that would cover housing, employment, and public accommodations.