Jonathan Lovitz didn't plan on making a gay rights statement when he reported to jury duty in Manhattan in early March. But when asked whether he thought he could be impartial, the self-described accidental advocate delivered a spontaneous and pointed response:
"I have to be honest," he said to stunned silence. "I can't be a judge of another person when I am considered a second-class one in this system."
Dismissed, Lovitz walked to the lobby and posted about his experience on Facebook. Soon afterward, blogs and even broadcast media began to report on the new activism of "getting of out of jury duty for being gay."
The 26-year-old Lovitz, who stars in the upcoming Logo series Setup Squad, insists his action was no publicity stunt.
"I never went in there saying, 'This is how I get out of jury duty,'" he said. "All I did when presented with the question was speak up and say exactly how I felt at that moment."
While speaking out at jury duty is not illegal, experts caution that anyone considering such an action should be aware of what they are surrendering, namely the right to influence the legal process. Few opportunities may be so cherished by a group that suffers state-sanctioned discrimination.
Kirsten Tynan, a state contact coordinator at the Fully Informed Jury Association, called Lovitz's action unprecedented, but she doubted that sexual orientation would disqualify jurors across the board.
"The individual in question is the only one who truly knows whether he can be impartial or not," she said. "We would certainly hope that potential jurors would not preclude themselves from a jury pool if they were able to impartial."
As for Lovitz, the South Florida native hopes to provide a different answer in six years when he reports to jury duty again.
"I look forward to serving in 2017 because I know in my heart by that time that things will be different," he said. "And I look forward to the day when I can say that, absolutely, I am impartial."