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Kentucky Jury Convicts Gay Couple for Marriage License Sit-In; Fines Them a Penny
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/27/13
Last updated on: 11/27/13
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Dominique James (left) and Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard.

On January 22, 2013, Reverend Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard and Dominique James applied for a marriage license in the office of Jefferson County Clerk of Court in Louisville, Kentucky. When they were denied the license, they refused to leave the office. At 5:00 p.m. that day, after disregarding the directive of a security officer and policemen to leave, and refusing to accept a citation, the couple were arrested for criminal trespassing and jailed briefly. On November 26, a Jefferson County jury convicted them of trespassing and levied a fine of one penny.

The trial was originally scheduled for August, but it had to be delayed when an impartial jury could not be seated from a jury pool of 20. When jury selection recommenced on November 25, there was a jury pool of 40.

Adam Wolfson reports in the Courier-Journal that during the three-hour trial on November 26, attorneys for Blanchard and James, who have been a couple for nine years, asked the jury to examine their consciences in deliberating the men's fate, while the prosecutors, who were not asking for jail time, attempted to limit the question to whether they had violated the law.

Blanchard, who was ordained a minister last year at Highland Baptist Church, testified that he had a spiritual obligation to oppose Kentucky's constitutional amendment banning the performance or recognition of gay marriage.

He said that 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. "They said he wasn't family," Blanchard explained.

James testified that he wanted to marry Blanchard so they could legally adopt a child and "in recognition that our relationship is equal to that of our heterosexual brothers and sisters."

Seven witnesses testified for the prosecution that the couple refused to leave the office after its 5 p.m. closing time, despite being asked to do so by a security guard, the chief deputy sheriff, and Louisville Metro police.

"Did these two men have your permission to stay there?" Assistant County Attorney Matthew Welch asked Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw.

"No, they didn't," she replied, adding that a clerk who grants a marriage license to a same-sex couple can be removed from office and convicted of a crime under Kentucky law and the state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

But law enforcement officers, including Metro Lt. Robert Shadle, who arrested the men when they refused to accept a citation, said they were quiet, peaceful, and respectful.

In their summations, the attorneys for the defendants said their clients were peaceful protesters who had done nothing wrong, while the prosecutor said that the evidence of guilt was overwhelming and that the jury should convict.

After the seven-person jury was sequestered to deliberate on a verdict in the case, they sent a note to Judge Sheila Collins asking if they could convict the defendants and impose no fine. She replied that if they convicted, they had to fine the defendants something.

Soon afterwards, the jury reported their verdict: guilty with a fine of one cent.

Crediting the defendants for the brief time they served in jail after their arrest, Judge Collins discharged the fine and waived court costs.

Following the verdict, Blanchard called the penalty a vindication of their protest in support of same-sex marriage.

"It shows [the jury] understood what we were doing."

Blanchard's counsel, Ted Shouse, remarked that he had never tried a case in which the maximum penalty--$250--"was so low and the stakes were so high."

Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the county attorney's office, said after the verdict that prosecutors had no choice but to take the case to trial.

"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 said.

She also noted that the defendants rejected a plea offer in which the charges would have been dismissed in return for both serving five hours of service for the charity of their choice.

Attorneys for James and Blanchard said their clients refused to take the deal because they felt they had done nothing wrong.

In the clip below, WLKY Louisville reports on the beginning of the trial.

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