Thursday, October 29, 2009

First and Second Class Citizenship in California

Dear Folks:

A friend of mine who is not from California asked me recently to explain just exactly how we distinguish among our citizens. He had heard a Californian say, “I’m tired of being a second-class citizen in the land of my birth!” and wondered what that meant.

So I explained it all to him. My explanation went like this:

We have two classes of citizens in California. We’ve always had two classes of people, and not one. We used to have first class citizenship for men but second class citizenship for women, but then came women’s suffrage and we gave up that distinction.

We used to have first class citizenship for white people and second class citizenship for black people, but then came the rejection of the separate-but-equal notion and we gave up that distinction, too. We used to have a first-class sexuality – heterosexuality – and a second-class sexuality – homosexuality – but then came the various laws allowing gay people to fight discrimination in housing and jobs so that there was no longer a way to distinguish who could live where they wanted and work where they met the qualifications from citizens without those rights, so gay people began at last to enjoy first class citizenship without having to pretend they were not gay. But in terms of who could marry, there were still two classes of citizens: heterosexual and homosexual.

Until the Supreme Court decided there was nothing in the State Constitution that prevented gays from marrying each other, and the second-class citizens who where gay became first-class citizens who were gay. Then Californians put that right to a vote, and a few citizens, mostly Mormons and Catholic citizens (including a great many outside of California), both groups historically second class citizens in their day, paid millions of dollars to put out a disinformation campaign to convince the voters there was something sinister and dangerous about gay people getting married (i.e., that God wanted them to be second-class citizens and God should be in charge in California and not the Constitution), so 52% of the people going to the polls in 2008 voted to remove the right of gays to marry the Supreme Court said they had, and second-class citizenship was put into the California State Constitution as it was once when people legally designated as black (i.e., polluted by 1% “black blood” even if they appeared white) were not allowed to marry people legally designated as white. Because the voters had decided this should be so, the Supreme Court let that stand, even though privately some of the justices thought second-class status for any citizen was a bad idea.

As a kind of compromise, they decided that those gays who had married when it was legal for them to do so should be allowed to remain married, which meant that now the picture was a little bit more complicated.

Now there are two kinds of citizens of California, heterosexual citizens, 100% of whom are first-class citizens, and homosexual citizens, some of whom are first-class citizens and some of whom are second-class citizens.

And until today, all of the married gay citizens of Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway and Sweden, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, i.e., countries or states which do not have two classes of citizens divided by their sexuality – became second-class citizens as soon as they entered California. Today, though, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the right of those citizens, first-class citizens in their home states or countries (because all of their citizens are by law first-class citizens), to be considered first-class citizens in California, too.

So only gay people who did not marry before their right to marry was removed, or who cannot afford to travel to another state to get married are second-class citizens. The rest are first-class citizens.

There. I hope that was helpful.



No comments: