Attack on Gay Couple Spurs New Philly Hate Crime Law

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 30, 2014 2:16 PM

Philadelphia is adding increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity after a gay couple was attacked in September.

According to The Associated Press, prosecutors claim they couldn't charge the three assailants with a hate crime because "sexual orientation isn't covered in the state's hate crime law." So Philly's city council moved quickly and passed a new bill authorizing added penalties for hate crimes left out of Pennsylvania's law.

What does this new hate crime law entail?

Penalties for LGBT Hate Crimes Added

The bill passed by the Philadelphia City Council on Thursday (Bill No. 14072001) would amend the city's code to add an entire new section on "Hate Crimes." If the bill is made effective, assailants who are motivated by hatred against a victim's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability may be subject to up to 90 days in jail and a $2,000 fine -- in addition to their original charges.

Philadelphia need not worry about adding race, religion, or national origin to this list of protected classes, as Pennsylvania law already covers acts that target these groups as hate crimes. Essentially, the Philadelphia ordinance would simply fill in the gaps of the state hate crime laws, but they would only be effective in Philadelphia's jurisdiction.

Protection for Sexual Orientation Removed in 2008

Oddly enough, Pennsylvania already had a hate crime law on the books for six years that punished gay-bashing criminals, but the state's Supreme Court struck it down. The high court struck down the amendment which added sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to Pennsylvania's hate crime statutes on a technicality: The protections were passed as part of an unrelated bill on agricultural terrorism, which the court found violated the state's constitution.

The Pennsylvania legislature was free to pass such a bill on its own, but has failed to do so in the six years following the high court's decision. The AP reports that Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney claims the city couldn't wait for the state to come to its senses.

The bill will go into effect immediately upon Mayor Michael Nutter's signature. Nutter has two weeks to approve the law.

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