GetEQUAL: Charges for marriage sit-in too harsh

Posted on 12 Jul 2012 at 11:50pm

Mark Jiminez, Beau Chandler face up to 6 months in jail for refusing to leave Dallas County Clerk’s Office on July 5 after being denied a license

marriage

BOOKED  | Jiminez and Chandler, shown in their Dallas County jail booking photos, each posted $500 bail before being released.

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

GetEQUAL Texas alleges that Beau Chandler and Mark “Major” Jiminez are facing harsher charges than people arrested at similar protests around the state and country.

Chandler and Jiminez were arrested at the Dallas County Clerk’s Office on July 5 when they refused to leave after they were not issued a marriage license. They are charged with class-B misdemeanor criminal trespass.

A similar Austin protest earlier this year also resulted in different charges that are also Class-B misdemeanors.

On Valentine’s Day, a same-sex couple applied for their marriage license at the Travis County Clerk’s Office. After being denied by tearful and supportive Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, the couple and their witness were arrested and charged with “obstructing a highway or other passageway.”

“Is it any harsher?” said Dax Garvin, the Austin couple’s attorney. “On the face of the statute, probably not … but depending on the facts of the case, it may be easier to prove.”

Garvin explained that if a government office is closing, that is one form of trespassing. But if it is still open and protesters are blocking passage, then it is obstructing.

Class-B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 fines.

Asked whether these charges would be considered harsh for a political protest, Carmen Castro, spokeswoman for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department said, “This has nothing to do with the couple’s political rights. They refused to leave a county building at closing time, 4:30 p.m. and were given numerous opportunities to leave the building or continue their demonstration outside.”

Cathy Marino-Thomas,  co-president of  Marriage Equality USA, disagreed.

“This is pretty harsh,” Marino-Thomas said. “I haven’t heard of charges like this being filed at all.”

Marino-Thomas said in most other cases, protesters are removed from the premises and released — with charges later dropped.

After an anti-marriage state constitutional amendment passed in North Carolina in May, Mary Jamis applied for a marriage license for herself and her partner Starr Johnson. When she was denied, Jamis refused to leave the Forsyth County Register of Deeds office in Winston-Salem, N.C.

According to the Associated Press, she was arrested and charged with second-degree trespass, a misdemeanor, and released without bond. Chandler and Jiminez were released only after each paying $500 bail.

In 2010, California’s San Diego County sheriff sent 50 deputies dressed in full riot gear to disburse nine peaceful protesters at the office where marriage licenses are issued. When the protesters refused to leave, they were arrested and charged with failure to disperse and interference with the business of a public agency. The group has come to be known as the Equality 9. The case is still pending, but the maximum penalty would be three months in jail.

Merino-Thomas, based in New York, said the Dallas case is getting national attention. “This is the stuff that equal rights movements are made of,” she said. “People will push for equality despite the personal cost and rightfully so.”

She called the current system “a patchwork of rights” and said her own marriage has been made valid and annulled so many times, she still doesn’t feel secure despite living in a state with marriage equality.

“Every person needs to be treated equally,” she said.

With the rise in support for marriage equality around the country, she predicted that if President Barack Obama wins re-election, gays and lesbians will soon gain the right to marry nationwide.

Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, said the DA’s office has not received Jiminez and Chandler’s cases yet, so it was too soon to tell if the office would lower or drop the charges. The sheriff’s department has up to 10 business days to file with the district attorney’s office.

Chandler and Jiminez were given a court date of Aug. 2 but their cases are scheduled for different courtrooms at the same time. As of press time, they had spoken to attorneys but not yet retained counsel. Merino-Thomas said placing their cases in separate courts but at the same time was an example of how same-sex couples are treated differently.

Jiminez and Chandler both said they plan to plead not guilty and continue their fight for a marriage license.

Merino-Thomas had one piece of advice for the couple.

“Go for it,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2012.

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