Second-Class Citizen

10 Nov

It hit me hard to read this sentence on a friend’s Facebook profile last week:

“[friend’s name] is a second-class citizen.”

It hit me even harder to see variations of that same phrase trickle across the message boards, forums, and social networking sites that I frequent on a regular basis. In the aftermath of an election that breathed fresh hope into America, my friends were hurting. Many of them were those jubilant celebrators dancing in the streets, but their tears were only partially ones of joy.

Last week, people in three states across the country (Arizona, California, and Florida) lost the right to marry the companion of their choosing. It was California, however, that shocked so many people. Proposition 8 wasn’t expected to pass in the overtly Democratic state, but it did so by a narrow margin of 52%. A sense of betrayal washed over members of the gay community who wondered why their fervent support of Barack Obama’s plan for change meant so little to the 70% of African-Americans who voted for the ban in California. Why would those who know the painful sting of discrimination vote to thrust it upon another group?

Add to that the estimated $20 million donated by the Church of Latter Day Saints to support the ban and a clear picture presents itself. Again, why would a group that has historically faced so much prejudice want to place a similar burden on another? Religion, if not the entire reason why Proposition 8 passed, is most certainly at the forefront of excuses for intolerance.

Normally, when asked about my faith, I describe myself as “respectfully ambivalent.” I don’t claim to know who is right or wrong (or if anyone is even close!), but I admire those who truly live the concept of “walking by faith, and not by sight.” It takes deep commitment and an excruciating amount of trust to defend something that simply cannot be proven. There is beauty and value in that.

But there is also beauty and value in the principles men and women have fought to uphold in this country. The Constitution reminds us that the country is a land free for religious expression but free from it as well. The separation of church and state exists to protect the free expression of religious beliefs AND to prohibit the government from favoring or endorsing a particular religion. In a land referred to throughout history as a melting pot, citizens come from a variety of faiths. Allowing any one faith to become a ruling class with moral superiority skews the vision of the country.

Unfortunately, “Christian” values have recently been overwhelmingly presented as preferential. I put “Christian” in quotations because those values which are being pushed at the American citizens are only one interpretation of Christian beliefs. The Christian values I grew up with (as a result of a Catholic family and education) were things like “love one another,” “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and above all, “God is love.” If God is truly love personified, than he is likely disappointed that his teachings have been interpreted to promote intolerance and discrimination.

An interviewee on the news argued that many people just wanted to have marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman, and that she still supported civil rights for gay couples. Other proponents claimed that “civil unions” would provide the gay community with the very same benefits. A quote from the Orange County Register swiftly debunks that argument:

“[People in civil unions as opposed to marriages may not] File a “joint” tax return, Receive health benefits from a spouse’s employer in states where civil unions are not recognized, Receive Social Security survivor benefits, Receive citizenship through relationship. Receive military veterans benefits, Receive service-related death benefits, Receive housing and burial benefits, Receive recognition of the relationship in event of transfer to a non civil union state, Receive stepped-up basis on property from inheritance, Receive optional tax deferral on IRA accounts.”

Other reasons for supporting the movement included the fear that children would be subjected to education about gay marriage or that it inhibited religious freedom. Michael Pulos in his letter to the OC Register writes, “First, if the proponents of Proposition 8 were actually concerned with education and religious freedom, they would have drafted a proposition that addressed those issues. The proposition would say ‘same-sex marriage will not be taught in schools’ or ‘churches won’t be forced to marry same-sex couples.’ The fact that they didn’t — and that the text is silent on these issues — strongly suggests that the motivation behind Proposition 8 lies elsewhere. Second, because Proposition 8 doesn’t address the issues of education or religious freedom, even if it passes, Proposition 8 does nothing to advance the causes it claims to be advancing. In other words, Proposition 8 by its own language can’t deliver on its campaign promises.”

In short, the argument for support the proposition doesn’t match the text. Unfortunately, the issue boils down to lingering misconceptions about gay lifestyles, fear of losing the “traditional family” (which, by the way does not and has not ever existed), and plain unadulterated bigotry. People at the polls were entrusted with the responsibility to vote based on an issue of the state and not one of religion.

The passing of Proposition 8 was not a victory for anyone—it was a slap in the face of civil rights.

Today, Governor Schwarzenegger rekindled the hope of its opponents when he said, “I think that we will again maybe undo [Prop 8], if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area.” He also expressed that it is unlikely that the proposition will have any effect on the 18,000 gay marriages already performed in the state.

Last week, I encouraged readers to come together regardless of what is different among us and embrace our bond as Americans. We cannot achieve solidarity as a nation while certain groups are still less equal than others. There is no moral authority to be gained by creating laws that fly in the face of the words “All men are created equal.”

That is not American.

Americans are the brave men and women who have fought for decades for civil rights. They are those who know that we have the potential to be the greatest nation in the world. They are the individuals who continue to build this country every day and believe that this is a land where anyone can live their dream.

And they are the people who will never rest until no one feels like “a second-class citizen.”

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