By Bob Allen
A gay Baptist minister arrested in January for refusing to leave a county clerk’s office that denied him and his partner a marriage license was convicted Nov. 26 of trespassing and fined a penny for the crime.
Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, a gay-rights activist ordained to the ministry by Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., hailed the jury verdict as “a great moral victory” for gay marriage in a southern state.
Blanchard and his partner, Dominique James, were scheduled to stand trial in August, but the pool of prospective jurors was too small to produce an unbiased jury. This time the pool size was doubled to 40, and while some of those questioned in jury selection seemed uncomfortable with the subject matter, Blanchard said their verdict indicated the jurors understood what the couple was trying to say.
Blanchard and James were arrested Jan. 22 while protesting a Kentucky law banning same-sex marriage and a 2004 constitutional amendment limiting legal marriages to those “between one man and one woman.”
The protest, described as an act of “nonviolent resistance to bring about social change,” was timed to coincide with this year’s Martin Luther King holiday and in anticipation of two cases in March in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and declined a case from California that effectively legalized gay marriage there.
Blanchard said the couple decided to disobey the law in Kentucky instead of traveling to a state where gay marriage is legal in an effort to “change the hearts” of people who oppose the right of same-sex couples to wed.
The Louisville Courier-Journal quoted a spokesperson for the county attorney who said the defendants rejected a plea offer in which the charges would have been dismissed in return for both serving five hours of service at the charity of their choice.
The maximum fine for the charge, third-degree trespassing, was $250. District Judge Sheila Collins waived the 1 cent fine in lieu of the brief time they spent in jail in January.