DeWitt: Liberty and justice, but not for gays and lesbians

Here's my recommendation if you know anyone who is about to be sworn in as a citizen of the United States: Tag along.

Yes, you'll have to endure the playing of the national anthem for dummies, Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA, and, assuming you are already a citizen, won't be granted any new rights.

But for stirring up patriotic feeling and affirming that this really is a great country, these naturalization ceremonies are as good as a visit to the National Mall in Washington. And they take place less than an hour's drive away, in a nondescript meeting room at the Tampa Convention Center, where my wife was sworn in Monday afternoon with 197 other new citizens.

You get a view of America's vaunted diversity — 57 countries represented, the entire range of skin colors and, in overheard private conversations, every post-Babel language imaginable.

In case that offends anyone who insists we all Speak English, darn it! well, the ability to do so is a requirement for nearly every new citizen. So is passing a civics test, renouncing allegiance to all other nations and pledging to "bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.''

It was just about at this point — when the oath started to take on a slightly nationalistic, authoritarian tone — that it was lightened up by good, old American tolerance. Those who can prove a philosophical or religious objection to fighting can find another way to serve, because this is a country that respects individual differences.

Celebrates them, as a matter of fact, because that's what this event was: a celebration, a high-spirited and humorous welcome. There was cheering as the countries of origin were listed and a good laugh when the cheering extended to the name of a state, South Dakota, which Brett Rinehart, the chief of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau in Tampa, slipped in after South Korea.

"It's bad that you all clapped,'' he said. "It's worse that one guy stood up.''

What a nice departure from the arrogant, even sadistic immigration officials my wife, Laura, has dealt with in years past. She enthusiastically sang the real national anthem, pledged allegiance to the flag and registered to vote. (Note to conservative Republicans: I'm the right-wing member of the household.)

If she was somewhat subdued, she said, it was because her business partner, Karen Greenway, couldn't take the oath with her. Karen (too good a friend for the usual newspaper practice of last names only) has had the same overall experience in this country as my wife.

They came here together from England nearly 20 years ago, invested in a business, hired employees for stores in Brooksville, Spring Hill and Inverness and fell into committed, long-term relationships with American citizens.

In my wife's case, that meant a man, marriage and a green card, the gateway to citizenship. For Karen, a lifelong lesbian, her partner is a woman, meaning no civil recognition of her marriage (which is what it really is) and, after all these years, no way to make her home country her legal one.

When I heard the Pledge of Allegiance on Monday I thought about the little boy in Arkansas who has refused to recite it. Maybe you've read about him. He says the part about "liberty and justice for all'' is still not true for gay residents. And he's right.

DeWitt: Liberty and justice, but not for gays and lesbians 12/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 7:56pm]

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