In the United States, we have terrible problems regarding equality. Politicians and outspoken Americans like to point fingers at each other when diagnosing the causes of discrimination in our otherwise extraordinary country.
More often than not, actual people are to blame for their prejudices and attitudes toward others who are different.
At times, this realization that we hold class and racial biases can be unsettling.
Today I recommend that we come to terms with the even more disturbing recognition that some of the inequalities faced by Americans result not from our personal attitudes, but from our own Constitution.
It has become agonizingly apparent for this American that the U.S. Constitution does not adequately provide equality for all. At present, our Constitution denies millions of Americans the right to hold the exalted office of president.
Article II Section 1 states that “No Person except a natural born Citizen or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President.”
Certainly this is an antiquated notion no longer appropriate today.
Jennifer Granholm might be a popular governor who has done a fine job in Michigan, but her Canadian birth certificate prevents her from forming an exploratory committee for 2008.
In 18 months, Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned around the troubled state of California, whose population is greater than most countries. He might be an exemplary American, but he shouldn’t even think about trying to serve his adopted homeland in any higher capacity. Leave that to a real American.
This constitutional stipulation preys on the fear that we Americans are supposed to hold regarding the presidency. The framers of the 18th century did not wish anyone of foreign birth to ever become president. Should we still dread the thought of a great American, who happens to have been born somewhere else, holding the office of president?
How can we honestly encourage others to leave their homelands, promise them better lives in America and flat out deny them the most prestigious right that all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy?
Critics may brush aside this complaint as affecting only a few or as an attempt to stir controversy where none should exist. After all, only a small few even want to be president.
Ironically, today’s efforts to amend the Constitution seek to take away rights by denying gay Americans the right to marry, whereas my proposal wants only to extend rights and promote real equality.
We cannot allow ourselves to shy away from this crisis. Too many good Americans will never enjoy the complete citizenship that I can take for granted for the rest of my life, simply because I was born on American soil.
Even if my parents and every single member of my most extended family came from foreign origins and loyalties, my birth on American soil ensures my eligibility to one day hold the highest office in the land.
My friend, who was not born of American parents or on American soil, can become a citizen, devote her life to serving her country, even become a member of Congress – but she can never run for president.
Therefore, “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,” should stay true to those very words and amend our Constitution accordingly.
It’s not about extending the right to be president to all Americans per se, since many could care less about being eligible for the highest office. It’s simply about extending equal rights to all Americans.
If my fellow naturalized American has committed no felonies and has all of her mental faculties but is ineligible to enjoy the same perks I can take for granted as a natural born citizen, then we do not live in a nation built on freedom, liberty, justice and equality.
In the movie, “The American President,” Michael Douglas’ character speaks of America as “advanced citizenship.” I have always disliked that reference, because it goes against my notion of American freedom and liberty.
Yet, I have realized that America is indeed “advanced citizenship,” since millions of Americans are discriminated against – in our own Constitution no less – based on where they were born. We may not want to acknowledge it, but the truth is that this form of discrimination is as old as our country itself.
Until our Constitution is amended to correct this inequity, Article II Section 1 might as well state: “All Americans are equal, but some are more equal than others.”