By Bob Allen
A Baptist minister and his same-sex partner jailed for trespassing two years ago after refusing to leave a county clerk’s office after being denied a marriage license returned to the scene of the crime Monday afternoon armed with last week’s Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states.
“Love and nonviolence do change what seems to be impossible,” Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard posted on Facebook after arriving with partner Dominique James to obtain a marriage license at the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office in Louisville, Ky. “Our faith and love sustained us, and we are so happy for all other couples who can now have marriage equality.”
The couple got a far different reception on Jan. 22, 2013, when they staged a sit-in at the clerk’s office protesting Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage. Both men were charged with third-degree criminal trespassing, which carries a maximum penalty of a $250 fine.
Their August 2014 trial was postponed when the pool of prospective jurors was depleted before lawyers could agree on an unbiased jury. The trial was rescheduled for November with a jury pool doubled to 40. Jurors found the couple guilty but levied a fine of just 1 cent. The judge waived the penny fine in lieu of the time they spent in jail in January.
On Valentine’s Day 2014 Blanchard and James joined other same-sex couples in a lawsuit claiming Kentucky’s gay-marriage ban violated their 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
Their case was consolidated with a federal judge’s order that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in another state. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them, marking what Blanchard described as “a very sad day.”
In January the U.S. Supreme Court granted their appeal. The couple traveled to Washington to hear oral arguments in April and were “elated” by the high court’s 5-4 decision June 26 establishing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.
“I’m just overwhelmed with joy right now,” James told WLKY News on Monday. “It’s amazing what feeling equal can be like.”
Blanchard, 37, a South Carolina native who was outed before his parents at age 23, was ordained in May 2012 by Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where he serves as volunteer leader of the congregation’s True Colors outreach ministry to the city’s LGBTQ community.
Blanchard and James met at a cookout in the fall of 2004 and have been together ever since. In 2008 they had an unofficial wedding in a Unitarian church and plan soon to repeat their vows in a legal marriage.
Blanchard is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In addition to being a gay-rights activist in Louisville, he acts as an itinerate minister offering services including wedding ceremonies, funerals and baptisms.
The journey to Snake River and marriage equality, by Bojangles Blanchard