Charges filed in Lansdowne
- As it appeared in the Philadelphia Gay News on July 29 -
By Timothy Cwiek
PGN Contributing Writer
© 2004 Timothy Cwiek
Lansdowne is the only municipality in Delaware County to have an openly gay council member, Kevin Lee. But Lansdowne also happens to be the home of Michael Marcavage, an outspoken opponent of gay rights.
Last week, tempers flared at a borough council meeting, resulting in criminal charges lodged against Marcavage, and against a council member who allegedly hit him, Elliot R. Borgman.
Marcavage was charged with disrupting a public meeting and disorderly conduct. Borgman was charged with disorderly conduct. Marcavage faces up to 15 months in jail and a $2,800 fine. Borgman faces up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
The matter has been assigned to District Justice John J. Perfetti. Marcavage's hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 23 at the Upper Darby Police Station, 7236 West Chester Pike in Upper Darby.
A court date for Borgman has not yet been set.
Marcavage is the head of Repent America, a Philadelphia-based Christian organization. He's appeared at several Philadelphia gay-pride events, and organizers of those events plan to seek a court order banning him and his followers from future events.
Marcavage says he attended the July 21 borough-council meeting to speak during the public-comment period about published statements by Lee, which Marcavage believes could encourage more gays to move into Lansdowne.
Marcavage says he doesn't want to force gay people out of Lansdowne, but he doesn't want to encourage them to move there, either. The borough has about 11,000 residents.
A few minutes into Marcavage's presentation, when he began to read from the Bible, Council President Norman Council temporarily adjourned the meeting, Marcavage says.
"I attempted to be reasonable, and to work with this council, but they have an ungodly agenda," Marcavage told PGN, after the meeting. "They were elected to represent the concerns of the community, not to become a dictatorship."
While Marcavage continued to read from the Bible, he allegedly was dragged out of the meeting room by Police Chief Daniel J. Kortan, Jr. and allegedly hit on his left shoulder by Borgman.
Borgman defended his actions.
"I wish I hadn't touched him," Borgman told PGN. "I admit I touched him, but I did not punch him. I was trying to get his attention. Maybe we should let the idiot speak and reveal himself for what he is. It makes us look bad if we try to prohibit speech from the Bible. Nevertheless, quoting extensively from the Bible has nothing to do with the business of council - as far as I can tell."
Lee called Marcavage's presentation "hate speech, pure and simple. He's harassed, threatened and annoyed many members of our community - and they've had it."
Council said he was within his rights to limit Marcavage's public comments on July 21.
"If he's going to use council to promote his hate speech, we don't wish to be a part of that," Council told PGN. "We don't want to infringe on the guy's First Amendment rights. But he was using the Bible to try to exclude a section of our population in Lansdowne."
Marcavage also expressed concern about his alleged treatment by Kortan.
"Chief Kortan forcibly pulled me from the meeting room, threw me into an elevator, and shoved me against its back wall," Marcavage said. "When I asked him about my civil rights, he came in my face and said, 'F--k your civil rights.'"
For his part, Kortan denied mistreating Marcavage and using profanity. Kortan said Marcavage had to be removed from the meeting room so that council could proceed with its agenda.
"We want him [Marcavage] to stop with his nonsense," Kortan told PGN. "We're considering all of our options. I'm confident the council will do the right thing. They're pretty reasonable people."
Beginning in August, announcements will be made prior to the public-comment periods at borough-council meetings, informing audience members they will have a maximum of 10 minutes to address the council.
Council members hope the announcements will provide more structure to the public-comment periods.
Lansdowne Mayor Jayne Young says she'll leave the meeting room if Marcavage speaks during another public-comment period.
"Yes, I will leave the room," Young told PGN. "I don't want to give the impression that I'm endorsing anything he says, or learning anything from him."
Lee, the openly gay council member, said he will remain in the room if Marcavage speaks again.
"Lansdowne is a haven for me," Lee told PGN. "It's been very open and accepting of everyone. I will not let one person's hate and ignorance run me away from the borough council table. I'll sit there and listen to what he has to say - and I'll address his concerns."
Lee also said he'd support the rights of other council members who choose to leave if Marcavage speaks at future meetings.
"He [Marcavage] cannot force us to listen to his speech, whether we're government officials or not," Lee continued. "I do not have to be forced to listen to him preach at me with his hate, whenever he pleases."
Marcavage said he's considering filing a lawsuit against the council for allegedly abridging his First Amendment rights.
"This matter will be aggressively addressed in a court of law," he said.
"Residents must be free to voice their opinion on any issue relating to the community."
He also strenuously denies preaching hate. "God's words are not hate speech," he said. If his message appears harsh at times, he says, it merely reflects the "harsh reality" of eternal damnation for sinners who fail to repent.
"They [council members] are just trying to tear me down, but my message will not be silenced," he said.
Borgman said he's not worried about unfairly silencing Marcavage. He noted that Marcavage manages to express his views at a variety of venues in Lansdowne. "I have no doubt that he will continue to do so," Borgman said.
He said Marcavage has conducted protests recently at a local Methodist church, and during recent visits by Gov. Ed Rendell and presidential nominee John Kerry.
"We're not like a lot of communities in Delaware County," Borgman added.
"We're very open, and welcoming of diversity. We've done many things to put Lansdowne in a good light, and Marcavage comes along and raises questions about us doing that. He has a level of sophistication at pushing the envelope."
Marcavage says he doesn't seek trouble, and is very pleased when his "street preaching" is well-received. He recently spoke publicly at a regional school-board meeting, he said, and was proud that the event went smoothly.
Kortan said he hopes Marcavage will grow tired of appearing at borough council meetings, and will move on to other things.
"In time, he'll burn out," Kortan said.
But at age 24, Marcavage has deeply-held beliefs, and says he feels compelled to express them. He's even toying with the idea of running for a seat on borough council.
"We all should be concerned about my treatment in borough council, because if it can happen to me, it can happen to someone else," he said.
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