Charges dropped against five WE DO protesters

Following a judge finding three WE DO campaign participants not guilty on trespassing charges yesterday for a May sit-in, charges were dismissed today against the five other protesters involved in that action.

Full announcement from the Campaign for Southern Equality:

Asheville, N.C. (September 13th, 2012) – On Thursday, second-degree trespassing charges were dismissed for five individuals – Amy Cantrell, Lauren White, Cathleen Johnstone, Sue Walton and Rich Walton – related to their participation in a peaceful sit-in at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office on May 11, 2012. The sit-in occurred after marriage licenses were denied to LGBT couples and was part of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s WE DO Campaign, which calls for full equality under federal law for LGBT people.

The dismissal followed yesterday’s not-guilty verdict on the same charges for Laura Blackley, Cindy Jordan and Craig White, the other three individuals who participated in the May 11 sit-in in Asheville. Ms. Blackley, Ms. Jordan and Mr. White were represented by Asheville attorney Meghann Burke; during their trial, Ms. Burke argued that the three were exercising their constitutionally protected right to petition the government for equal protection under the law. Ms. Burke also represented Rich and Sue Walton, who have been married for almost 55 years and took part in the sit-in to express their belief that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. Asheville attorney Diane Walton represented Rev. Cantrell, Ms. White and Ms. Johnstone.

On May 11, just days after the passage of Amendment One, the eight individuals began the peaceful sit-in at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds Office after marriage licenses had been denied to Ms. Jordan and Ms. Blackley (who legally wed in California in 2008), Ms. White and Rev. Cantrell, and numerous other LGBT couples. All eight individuals refused to leave the office until LGBT couples were granted marriage licenses. They were arrested by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department and charged with second-degree trespassing.

During testimony in yesterday’s trial, Ms. Blackley and Ms. Jordan, who have a young daughter, stated that they requested a marriage license and then participated in the sit-in after being denied in order to seek legal recognition of their marriage in North Carolina and thus gain vital protections for their family. Mr. White, a friend of the couple, testified that he took part in the sit-in because he believes it is unjust that he and his wife are granted over 1,138 rights granted through marriage, while these same rights are denied to same-sex couples.

In finding the three not-guilty, the presiding judge said that the individuals were exercising their Constitutional right to petition public officials for equal protection under the law.

Today, the five individuals awaiting trial welcomed news of the dismissed charges. Attorney Meghann Burke said, “We are pleased the Court recognized that Laura, Cindy, and Craig were conducting legitimate business when they engaged the Register of Deeds in a dialogue after he denied of Laura and Cindy’s request for a marriage license. All 8 defendants were peacefully exercising rights protected by the Constitution in a public building yet were arrested for trespass during business hours. We respect the District Attorney’s decision to dismiss charges against the remaining defendants.”

Since the WE DO Campaign launched in October 2011, more than 35 LGBT couples have requested – and been denied – marriage licenses in ten towns across North and South Carolina. To date, twelve individuals in Asheville and Winston-Salem, NC, have participated in peaceful sit-ins as acts of civil disobedience during WE DO actions. The next stage of the WE DO Campaign, which calls for full equality under federal law for LGBT people, will take place across the South in January 2013.


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