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Pennsylvania Governor Condemns Philly Anti-Gay Attack, But Mum On Push To Change Hate Crimes Law

Democratic lawmakers are renewing their calls to pass legislation that would add LGBT protections to the state’s hate crimes law. Move comes after a gay couple was brutally beaten in Philadelphia this month.

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Gov. Tom Corbett
AP Photo / The Scranton Times-Tribune, Butch Comegys

Gov. Tom Corbett

As a number of Pennsylvania lawmakers make an urgent push to amend the state's hate crimes law after an anti-gay attack in Philadelphia this month, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett told BuzzFeed News the governor condemns the attack, as well as anti-LGBT discrimination and crimes based on discrimination.

"In the wake of the crime in Philadelphia, the governor condemns the attack and crimes based on discrimination," Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said. "Without addressing the language in specific legislation, the governor condemns discrimination and crimes resulting from discrimination whether that discrimination be based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Again, the governor condemns the attack."

However, the spokesman would not say whether Corbett, a Republican who faces a tough re-election fight this November, supports the bill Democratic state lawmakers are urgently seeking to pass in the few remaining days of session this year that would expand the state's hate crimes law to view crimes committed because of a victim's sexual orientation, among other reasons, as more severe.

Rep. Brendan Boyle, chief sponsor of the legislation — House Bill 177 — told BuzzFeed News he has the votes to pass the bill, and is urging Republican leadership in the state to allow it to come up for a vote in the few remaining days left of the legislative session following a brutal anti-gay attack in Philadelphia that left a gay couple with multiple injuries this month.

"I am confident that if Republican leadership allows it to be voted in it will pass," Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat who is running for Congress, said when reached by phone. "The Speaker of the House and the majority leader — essentially those two individuals control the calendar and what's voted on. I've been pressing them for the last year and a half. But it's pretty clear that this is just a topic they want to continue to avoid."

Corbett's Democratic opponent Tom Wolf issued a statement late last week going further than the governor — calling on lawmakers to finally act on LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation, and saying the recent attack is "incomprehensible" and that those responsible for it should be "severely punished."

"We, as a society and a community, cannot stand for these assaults on our individual freedoms," Wolf said in the statement. "No one, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation, should ever have to live in fear of walking down the street."

Boyle's bill has languished with inaction in the House since he introduced it in January 2013. But now, he says he has the full support of the House's Democratic caucus as well as at least 10 Republicans, whom he declined to name.

"Every Democratic member is supportive of this," Boyle said. "So 92 [Democrats] plus the 10 Republican members — that's the 102 votes needed and there's members I haven't gotten to speak to yet." As for Corbett, Boyle said this issue is an opportunity for the governor to lead, saying, it should be easy for him to support the hate crimes bill, seeing as he's previously supported an LGBT nondiscrimination bill.

"I would welcome him to come out to boldly say he supports [the hate crimes bill] and wants it to move," Boyle said. "It's popularly supported."

Specifically, Corbett has spoken in support of a separate piece of legislation that would add nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations — but it's unlikely that bill, as well, will go anywhere before session expires.

Boyle plans to stage a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Harrisburg onTuesday morning to again call upon other members of the legislature and state leadership to act on passing the bill. There are only eight days left of session scheduled: Sept. 23-24, Oct. 6-8, Oct. 14-15, and Nov. 12. Rep. Brian Sims, an out gay Philadelphia Democrat, announced Sept. 19 that in response to the anti-gay attack, he is holding a public hearing of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee Oct. 2 to discuss updating the hate crimes law to better protect LGBT people.

The attention follows the attack of a gay couple by a group of men and women in the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia on Sept. 11. Attackers in the group used anti-gay slurs and some in the group held the victims down and punched them in the head, chest, and face before fleeing the scene with a victim's bag containing a wallet and credit cards, according to the Philadelphia Police. One of the victims — who both have remained anonymous — suffered a fractured jaw, which needed to be wired shut.

As of Monday, police had concluded their investigation and have turned over evidence to the District Attorney's office, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, said, reported Philly.com.

Ramsey said the hate crimes law "needs to change, and change very quickly," to cover crimes such as those motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, according to the report.

Messages were left with a spokesperson for both House Speaker Samuel Smith and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai seeking comment.

Corbett and Wolf were set to go face to face in the race's first debate Monday night at a Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and Industry dinner in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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