Dear Reader, let me fill you in:
One, Jonathan D. Lovitz (actor/model/singer/you know the deal), was excused from jury duty earlier this week, claiming that as a gay man he was made a second class citizen by the state, denying him the right to marry and adopt, and therefore he could not judge another citizen impartially.
Jonathan (make sure to check out his webpage, if only for the homepage graphic) wrote on his Facebook:
“Just had an intense day at jury duty. During voir dire we were asked who would not be impartial. I raised my hand and said ‘since I can’t get married or adopt a child in the state of New York, I can’t possibly be an impartial judge of a citizen when I am considered a second class one in the eyes of this justice system.’ You wouldn’t believe how people in the room reacted.”
Of course, when his impartiality came into question, Jonathan was excused from jury duty. Success! (right? read on…)
Now, this is nothing new. Everyone I know has an excuse made or in the works for future opportunities–many don’t try them–but they all have the same aim: to avoid serving jury duty.
Nevertheless, you argue, jury duty is ‘Our Civic Duty’, we must serve it! Well, yes, sure, I agree. However, my patriotic and law-enforcing (and extremely good-looking) reader, by definition, a civic duty is a citizen’s responsibility to the state. Well, if members of the gay community feel like they are not being treated like citizens, do these civic duties apply to them?
A New York party promoter and blogger, Justin Luke, a friend of Jonathan’s, encourages others on his blog, Justin +1, to use the strategy as a form of civil disobedience to make a political point, with the title “Get Out of Jury Duty and Score Points for Gay Rights!”; the title covering the story in The Advocate seems to follow in the same line: “Be Gay, Get Out of Jury Duty”.
Now, all this has sprung a tidal wave of comments on all sites covering the story and bringing much desired traffic to Jonathan’s and Justin’s respective websites (And hey, maybe Jonathan has a reality show on Logo coming up, and I’ll briefly mention it so it remains as a question for his motives in the back of your mind). Some of the comments show support:
“Congratulations to Jonathan Lovitz for making a unique, brave and telling stand.” (via The Advocate)
“What a FANTASTIC way of showing displeasure at the denial of our basic rights as citizens! Good on!!” (via The Advocate)
“His statement is entirely justified. One can’t be held responsible for civil duties when they are not even given their civil rights. I applaud him.” (via Care2)
“What struck me was the guarantee of the defendant to a trial by a “jury of peers”. The below Wikipedia definition clearly states that “peer” means “equal”. And there is no way that any gay person is equal to our heterosexual families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Ergo, we are not in fact peers at all. Although I think it is a bit tacky to skip out on civic duties on a technicality… I do think he was right to do so. jury of one’s peers n. a guaranteed right of criminal defendants, in which “peer” means an “equal.” This has been interpreted by courts to mean that the available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and gender. Jury selection may include no process which excludes those of a particular race or intentionally narrows the spectrum of possible jurors. It does not mean that women are to be tried by women, Asians by Asians, or African Americans by African Americans. (See: jury) It is still a matter of equality.” (via The Advocate)
But most comments seem to show criticism from mostly gay readers:
“As a lawyer, I think encouraging people to ditch jury duty to make “a legitimate statement to support the rights of gay people” is irresponsible and denies my clients (primarily LGBT folks) any shot at a jury of their peers. As a gay man who suffered through a bashing where the perpetrators were caught and convicted, I find Lovitz’s and your position horrifying. It would have not only killed any chance of gay people on the jury, I think the spectacle would have influenced at least some of the straights on the jury negatively. But, Lovitz’s actions were neither “legitimate” nor “powerful and honest.” His claimed justification was, as noted above, just flat out false. If you want to influence policy on LGBT rights, educate yourself first. If you truly feel the need to shirk jury duty because it “sucks,” find another way that doesn’t make us all look ill-informed and divaesque. What sucks is encouraging other folks to follow his lead on this blog. I can only hope anyone who does try this gets their facts straight. Or gay.” (via Justin +1)
“It’s a completely nonsensical argument, and I think the fact that he’s an actor with a forthcoming reality show coming out has a lot more to do with this than any real activism. When one is treated unequally that makes it DOUBLY important to participate in democracy and do one’s civil duty. We NEED minorities on juries- how else can we ensure that minority suspects and minority victims are treated with the fairness they deserve? Everybody is entitled to a jury of his peers, including gay people.” (via Care2)
“As a gay man I can try to sympathize with that excuse, but I really can’t. Jury service is part of our civic duty, and GLBT can really tip the scales of justice in meaningful ways just by sitting on a jury box. I can tell you that because I’ve been foreperson in two different trials, and being gay gave everyone a different perspective. You think anyone who uses the gay panic defense will feel worse about their chances of taking their case to a jury trial once they read about this grand-standing?” (via Justin +1)
Which brings me, dear reader, to the most important part of this great debate: Where do you stand?