Niecy Nash
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Op-ed: How a Gay Baptist Preacher in Kentucky Took His Marriage Fight to SCOTUS

Op-ed: How a Gay Baptist Preacher in Kentucky Took His Marriage Fight to SCOTUS

Dominique and I met each other 11 years ago here in Louisville, Ky.  I am from the Deep South, while Dominique is from Indiana. In G-d’s own divine and mysterious way, we crossed each other’s paths and fell in love. My father, an ordained Baptist minister, married us in a church ceremony June 3, 2006. Although we couldn’t receive a marriage license and still can’t due to Kentucky’s 2004 marriage equality ban, it was very important for us to be married in the church. Our commitment to each other before G-d is very sacred to us.

Since that time, we’ve endured the oppressive effects of discrimination that so many other same-sex couples have. We’re unable to file taxes jointly and can’t enjoy the tax benefits that come with legal marriage. When buying our home, we had to look specifically for an agent who would protect our interests as a same-sex couple since, we experienced discrimination at several agencies. These are only a few of the issues we’ve faced, because there are almost 1,400 rights and benefits that come with legal marriage that we and other same-sex couples are denied. Dominique and I will have to have an attorney draw up legal documents to create the same protections we should be given through marriage. This adds further to the financial burden we and others must endure as same-sex couples in states that deny us the right to marry.

This degrading system of legalized homophobia is something we have endured our entire lives. Although Dominique and I were making strides for equality within our community and church, the stinging indignation of marriage inequality was becoming too much for us to remain complacent any longer. In January of 2013, there was a shocking case of discrimination at a local hospital, where one of the members of the ministry I lead was denied the right to see his dying partner because the staff didn’t consider him family. It was only when another family member showed up later that night that he learned his partner had died three hours earlier, while he had sat unaware in the waiting room. This brother called me in tears, asking me what we could do to stop this evil that had robbed him of sharing the last moments of his partner’s life with him. Dominique and I immediately knelt in prayer and asked G-d to lead us to a form of action that would peacefully demonstrate not only the sanctity of same-sex love but also our refusal to remain silent accomplices to our own discrimination.

The Lord placed it on our hearts to hold a faith leader rally for marriage equality in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse January 22, 2013, and then apply for a marriage license. We needed to create public awareness around the reality of the discrimination same-sex couples face. Following the rally, Dominique and I entered the county clerk’s office, accompanied by church friends and media. We peacefully requested a marriage license, and the clerk said she couldn’t give us one because we were a same-sex couple. I told her that we were not mad at her since she was just doing her job but that we were spiritually obligated to sit down in the office and not move as a form of nonviolent resistance against this discrimination. We all sat quietly and prayed until the office closed and the police were called. 

One of the policemen came into the office and ordered all of the media and our friends to go out into the hall. He sat down in front of us and gave Dominique and me two options. First, we could get up and leave and he’d write us both a citation for trespassing. On other hand, if we refused to get up and leave, they would arrest us and we’d be charged with trespassing. I remember him looking at me and asking, “What will it be, Reverend? It’s your choice.” 

I took Dominique’s hand in mine and replied, “Officer, for us there is no choice. We’re spiritually obligated to stay.” In our hearts, we knew we had to remain seated for all of those same-sex couples across the country who’re denied their rights and for whatever reason have no voice to cry out against it. With the Holy Spirit guiding us, we were then arrested.

A jury later found us guilty of the charge of trespassing, but something incredible happened. Here we were, two gay men, me even a Baptist minister, being tried before a jury in the southern state of Kentucky for trespassing on government property in response to being denied the right to a marriage license. The state prosecutor made a point never to address me as Rev. Blanchard, but rather called me Mr. Blanford 10 different times to the jury. His disdain for us was palpable, so we weren’t surprised when jury found us guilty. Yet here’s where it got interesting. They could’ve fined us up to $250 each, but instead the jury chose to fine us each a penny, the lowest amount possible! It was a moral victory in every sense and we believe G-d had stirred the souls of the jurors. They understood why we had to remain seated in that office after being denied a marriage license. 

In June of 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Dominique and I immediately met with the Fauver Law Office here in Louisville and began planning a federal suit against the state of Kentucky for denying us our civil right to a marriage certificate. We felt we were in a position to not only fight for our own personal right to marry, but also for all the other same-sex couples in Kentucky who couldn’t marry. We’ve never seen this struggle as just about us.

Our suit was filed against the state on Valentine's Day, 2014, along with another couple, Tim Love and Larry Ysunza, who’d also been denied a marriage certificate from the clerk’s office. U.S. District Judge John Heyburn ruled in our favor, but Kentucky governor Steve Beshear appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Heyburn’s decision was overturned at the Sixth Circuit, and our case was in limbo, as was the Bourke case, calling for Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state. While all of the plaintiffs were very disappointed, many of us had faith that G-d wasn’t done helping us, and we were right.

Our attorneys immediately began working to place our cases before the Supreme Court, and in January of this year, SCOTUS announced it would hear the Kentucky cases, along with others from the Sixth Circuit, April 28. We were elated, and in the midst of the celebrating, Dominique and I continued to praise G-d for leading us each step of the way. There’s no doubt in our minds that the case would not have come this far without G-d working through us and others in this struggle. We know that freedom is on its way for all same-sex couples because no matter how impossible something may seem, with G-d it becomes possible.

REV. MAURICE "BOJANGLES" BLANCHARD is an ordained Baptist minister in Louisville, Ky. He leads a welcoming and affirming ministry for LGBT people at Highland Baptist Church. He and his partner are plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case for marriage equality to be heard April 28.

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