Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Second Class Citizen

Our freedom and liberty are at risk. During this election, the biggest threat to America is not coming from outside the US in the guise of foreign terrorists or an invading army; it comes from within America itself. In Minnesota two amendments are proposed to change my state’s constitution, but this threat is also on the ballot in many other states across the US this year.

Both threats are an attempt to get an electoral majority to limit the rights and freedoms of a smaller group of Americans. In our brief history as a nation, through countless struggles by courageous people our democracy has learned how to protect the rights of certain minorities. Those struggles have led me to believe that an experienced democracy learns how to protect and value minority rights; a less mature democracy threatens and controls the rights of minority groups.

The first freedom under attack is the right to marry whomever one chooses. I’m a man in an interracial marriage. My wife and I have been married for 17 years. It’s hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been worth it. I watch some of my friends and some of my friend’s children being denied that right. One of my friends wrote a guest post addressing her anger and a plea for her brother in Americans, Religion, My Brother, and Me this past May.

Passing laws and amending state constitutions restricting who you can marry is taking away a freedom. It flies directly in the face of the United States Declaration of Independence's life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Marriage equality does not force any church to agree with or abide with it. It doesn’t compel Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims, Buddhists or any other religious group to perform weddings in their respective churches. It does however give people some basic societal protections. Those come in relation to the person who you’ve dedicated your life to, the person that’s stood with you and taken care of you when others have turned their back on you: friends, family or anyone: access to hospital rooms, insurance, pensions.

Everyone deserves to be loved by the person they choose. Some heterosexual marriages end in divorce, but that doesn’t mean we legislate or restrict with whom we can marry. We all deserve to make our choices when it comes to love and family. It is simply immoral to try and restrict a minority group’s rights, just because we don’t agree with them. This isn’t a religious issue; it’s part of being a free society. Religions can disagree and limit all they wish to within their own church, that’s their right.

How we enact our laws defines who we are as a people. Are we a simple majority that stomps on the rights of minorities? Didn’t we learn this lesson already? In no good conscience can I restrict the rights of others, even when I don’t agree with them. It’s a slippery slope into eroding other liberties in our society.

The second freedom under fire is the right and the ability to vote itself. It wasn’t that long ago in our nation’s history that we had racist laws limiting the African-American vote. These laws often had literacy tests, poll taxes, property ownership and other means to try to disallow certain citizens their voting rights in an election.

In my state there is a proposed amendment would require each and every person to carry a government-issued photo ID, which shows the person’s current address. This law is being packaged and sold as a way to protect against voter fraud. In reality, it will restrict legitimate citizen’s ability to vote. If that wasn’t bad enough, it's estimated to cost an additional $50 million in taxes or state budget cuts to enforce this law, something we really can’t afford at this time.

It’s been said this is the last year that the GOP can pursue winning an election strictly by only going after the white vote. In the next presidential election, the demographics of America will require them to gain African-America, Latino-American and other groups support to win. One tactic employed to lower voter turnout is negative campaign ads, something both sides of the political isle are guilty of. Another is requiring this government-issued photo ID. A government-issue ID will make it difficult for students, senior citizens and those who may not be able to comply with all the many legal forms and paperwork one must provide to get an ID. In some states you may also have to pay for an ID: the equivalent of a poll-tax in my opinion (See the US Constitution, 24th Amendment). The Minnesota amendment would provide for free government-issued IDs to get around this issue.

Billboards around town are showing a solider hugging a little girl, an American flag in her hand clutched around the soldier’s back: they ask for the voter ID law to pass. Suppressing the American vote is now considered patriotic? I was under the impression American service men and women fought to protect our freedom, not take it away. If our military stood to take away the freedoms of American citizens, that would be despotism. This is not who we are or what we stand for.

Our US constitution is there to protect us as a people from the tyranny that governments have imposed. It is intended to give us representation, a voice in our government. Taking away or restricting the ability to vote is relinquishing our freedom to a group of people who then elect the government.

If either of these proposed laws is passed, we are creating second class citizens. We’re creating a group of Americans codified by our state’s constitutions as people that have fewer rights than others. Today it may seem like a GLBT issue; it may be a right to vote. It’s the beginning of the dissolution of our American rights and freedoms. We may find ourselves in two years, four or twelve restricting our rights in other ways. I truly hope this is not the direction our country is headed.

Our majorities must respect minority rights. We must not cede our right to vote, or any group of American citizens the right to vote. We must not let rich, powerful interests use that power to sell us a bag of goods saying there is voter fraud then sign our rights and the rights of others away under this false pretense. It’s trying to steal power, pure and simple.

We’re coming to some very important decisions as to what kind of nation we will be. Our liberty and freedoms are at stake right now. We’re not seeing America invaded by a foreign nation, but a bloodless coup from within. These laws may not affect you today, but may affect you someday. If you live to be 80 or 90, you will have to renew your ID. You may be in a hospital bed unable to travel to the government office, your mind as sharp as a whip but unable to vote. These laws will have unpredictable consequences. If they pass, there will likely be more aimed at curbing the rights of others and as well as ourselves.

We’re Americans. We fight wars under the banner of freedom and democracy. Let’s not stomp on the rights of others. If we stand together now, we can stop the erosion of our freedom and prevent it from slipping farther and farther away from us. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Please vote NO on both measures.

Further information:

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  1. NYTimes: Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises

  2. Your clear thoughts on this subject are so helpful. Thanks!