PHILADELPHIA — State treasurer Bob Casey, Sen. Rick Santorum’s leading Democratic challenger, told an audience at an event sponsored by a gay rights organization that if elected he would fight discrimination “wherever I find it.”

Casey, who supports laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, said he provides a contrast to the conservative Santorum, the No. 3 Senate Republican who has frequently earned the ire of gay rights groups for his opposition to gay marriage.

“I think it’s time we had a senator who wasn’t pushing a narrow, intolerant ideology that says ‘I’m right, you’re wrong ... and you don’t know better,”’ Casey said.

Casey received a standing ovation when he was introduced and drew applause throughout his 16-minute speech to an audience of about 600 people at a black-tie gala put on by the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest national gay rights groups.

Before Casey spoke, a short film was shown on two large video screens asking for help in beating Santorum and featuring his picture beside quotes from an April 2003 interview with The Associated Press in which he compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery. The crowd let out a groan when a clip showed the Rev. Jerry Falwell describing Santorum as a “bright young star” and saying that he would vote for Santorum for president.

Mark Mitchell, a co-chair of the event, described it as a pep rally. “It was to build excitement and momentum,” he said. “It was to get a good start.”

Casey, who has been leading Santorum by double-digits in recent polls, described Santorum as President Bush’s “No. 1 ally and No. 1 cheerleader” and accused him of practicing politics that “divide and conquer.” He said he would practice “more tolerance and less discrimination.”

The Santorum campaign shrugged off the endorsement.

“The Human Rights Campaign is one of the most liberal organizations in the country, and their endorsement of Bob Casey just goes to show how far outside the mainstream Bob Casey has become,” said Virginia Davis, spokeswoman for the Santorum campaign.

Casey also opposes gay marriage but favors allowing same-sex couples to join in civil unions that could provide many of the same benefits as marriage. He also favors allowing non-married couples to receive benefits such as power of attorney and health benefits.

“The values I live by call on me to fight discrimination wherever I find it,” Casey said.

Santorum has advocated that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that special rights should not be granted based on sexual orientation.

Like Santorum, however, Casey is opposed to abortion and supported the nominations of Judge John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, which upset some feminists.

Michael Palmer, a volunteer for the Human Rights Campaign who helped organize the event, said Casey has long been a supporter of gay couples “having equal protection under the law, like every other couple is entitled to” and earned the organization’s endorsement. He said the group has about 10,000 members in the Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley region.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.