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Pennsylvania lawmaker wants repeal of pro-gay protections

Pennsylvania lawmaker wants repeal of pro-gay protections

A Pennsylvania lawmaker has proposed a bill that would remove a section from Pennsylvania's hate-crime laws that bans harassment based on sexual orientation. Democratic state representative Thomas Yewcic of Cambria said he filed the bill in response to the arrest of five evangelical Christian protesters at a gay pride festival in Philadelphia. The five were charged with violating Pennsylvania's Ethnic Intimidation Act when they disrupted the event with a bullhorn preaching that homosexuality is a sin. The Repent America demonstrators resisted a police order to pull back, and police said they were concerned about possible violence. Yewcic said he wants to repeal changes made to the law in 2002 that make it a crime to harass or intimidate people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law originally dealt only with race, religion, and national origin. Yewcic and supporters of his bill argue that the Philadelphia district attorney's Ooffice was wrong to bring ethnic-intimidation charges against the protesters, arguing that the law was intended to apply to physical crimes or incitement to such crimes, not merely speech. "If the law stands as it is, it will make Christians who oppose the homosexual lifestyle think twice about going on the streets," said Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, which encourages its 12,000 members to back the bill. "It will have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights." Civil liberties advocates vowed to fight the proposed change, though they also voiced concerns about the way the law was applied. About 30 states have hate-crimes laws that seek to protect gays. "There has to be some underlying criminal act," said Stacey Sobel, director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Rights. "You can't just go after speech." Sobel was the author of the 2002 language that added "actual or perceived ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity" to the areas the law covers. "This is not the kind of situation or conduct that hate-crimes laws are intended to address," said Michael Lieberman, a lawyer for the national Anti-Defamation League, which supports hate-crimes laws. But Sobel and Lieberman said experience shows that gays do need protection. The FBI's most recent national statistics, from 2003, recorded 1,239 hate crimes based on sexual orientation, Lieberman said. Yewcic's bill was filed with the state house judiciary committee, though he said he wasn't optimistic about its chances. "My gut feeling is there's not the will by the leadership to do anything at this point," he said. The committee chairman, Republican state representative Dennis O'Brien of Philadelphia, said he wants to study the bill and "see how the case plays out" in Philadelphia before deciding whether to schedule it for action. (AP)

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