|Maurice Blanchard [left] and Dominique James|
With Marriage Equality on the march everywhere, and with many states facing lawsuits from same-sex couples demanding to be treated equally, I knew it was only a matter of time before an arrest was made.
In Kentucky, Dominique James and the Reverend Maurice Blanchard had gone down to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license. Since same-sex marriage is illegal in their state, the two men were denied, but, well, they decided maybe they would just have a seat.
And they sat, all day, until closing time, when they were told they would have to leave; they didn’t. And so James and Blanchard were arrested for trespassing and recently stood trial for their “crime.” On the witness stand the two men said they felt they were “spiritually obligated” to stay there, with Blanchard adding, “If you are called by God to do something, you do it.”
After three hours of testimony in which their lawyers credited the men for their civil disobedience, and the prosecutor demanded that the jury stick to the facts — James and Blanchard trespassed on government property — the verdict came down:
Guilty. Blanchard and James were convicted of trespassing and fined …. one cent.
The jury foreman had sent a note to the judge, asking if they could convict the defendants but impose no fine, but Judge Sheila Collins said they had to fine the defendants something.
After the trial, Collins discharged the one-cent fine and waived court costs, crediting the defendants for the brief time they served in jail.
Blanchard called the penalty a vindication of their protest in support of marriage equality: “It shows they understood what we were doing.”
Their fine is being called the smallest ever imposed in a criminal trial in Kentucky, but Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the county attorney’s office, said: “We respect the right of the defendants to protest, but we also respect the law, and the law doesn’t distinguish what causes are worth breaking the law for.”
She added that James and Blanchard rejected a plea offer in which the charges would have been dropped in return for both serving five hours of service for the charity of their choice.
Well, maybe James and Blanchard wanted to go to trial to bring awareness to the inequalities in Kentucky and elsewhere in this country. Maybe they felt that it was time to take a stand, or a seat, rather, for something they feel they deserve but are being denied.
Seven witnesses testified for the prosecution that the couple refused to leave the office after its 5 p.m. closing time, with County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw saying that she could have been arrested herself if she’d granted the couple a marriage license.
Lt. Robert Shadle, the Louisville police officer who arrested James and Blanchard, said on the stand that the men refused to accept a citation, but were quiet, peaceful and respectful. In fact, Shadle shook their hands before taking them into custody.
Blanchard said he was driven to seek a marriage license after a gay man in his ministry was recently barred from visiting his partner as he lay dying in a hospital because he wasn't considered “family.” James said he wanted to marry Blanchard, whom he met nine years ago, so they could legally adopt a child and “in recognition that our relationship is equal to that of our heterosexual brothers and sisters.”
In his closing statement, Assistant County Attorney Matthew Welch asked the jury to convict on “overwhelming evidence of guilt,” though he left the amount of the fine up to them, while in their summations for James and Blanchard, attorneys Ted Shouse and Annie O’Connell likened their clients to peaceful protesters of past generations who they said are now viewed as heroes. Shouse asked jurors what they would tell their families on Thanksgiving about their jury service:
“Are you going to be able to tell them that you stood up for the best of America?”
I think they did.