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Jury selection began this morning for the trial of eight gay rights activists who were arrested in 2010 for blocking access to the county clerk’s office after being denied marriage licenses. California’s Proposition 8, which placed a ban on same-sex marriage, had recently been declared unconstitutional, but a stay on enforcement of the ruling had also been enacted to allow Prop 8 supporters to mount a legal challenge.

Dubbed the “Equality 9” by the LGBT community (one of those charged has since accepted a plea bargain), the defendants are each charged with two misdemeanors: failure to disperse and interference with the business of a public agency. The group’s main argument against conviction, that the sit-in they staged was constitutionally protected free speech, will not be allowed to be presented at trial, according to a statement from the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality.

California Penal Code Section 602.1(b) reads “[a]ny person who intentionally interferes with any lawful business carried on by the employees of a public agency open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to 90 days, or by a fine of up to four hundred dollars ($400), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”

But Section 602.1(c)(2) provides an exemption for “[a]ny person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California Constitution or the United States Constitution.”

If any of the protesters convicted, the exemption clause figures to play heavily in the appeals process.

“"Why is the city wasting public money and time prosecuting people engaged in peaceful protest for LGBT equality?” asks Jose Medina, an Alliance member. “Peaceful protest is a protected right under the U.S. Constitution.”

The group claims that the city attorney is “issuing subpoenas and flying witnesses in from as far away as Florida” as part of the misdemeanor prosecution.

Opening arguments in the case are expected to begin later this afternoon.

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Comments

SurfPuppy619 April 30, 2012 @ 9:09 p.m.

“"Why is the city wasting public money and time prosecuting people engaged in peaceful protest for LGBT equality?” asks Jose Medina, an Alliance member. “Peaceful protest is a protected right under the U.S. Constitution.” The group claims that the city attorney is “issuing subpoenas and flying witnesses in from as far away as Florida” as part of the misdemeanor prosecution.

GoldDork, what the hell are you thinking??? 90 days and a $400 fine and you're doing a jury trial??? Get a clue. The City Attorney has better causes-and money- to engage in.

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