Equality of all citizens and ‘second-class’ citizens

1. Introduction
2. Disability and poverty
3. Gay marriages
4. Position of women
5. Citizenship and socialization of children
6. Conclusion
7. Bibliography

Traditionally, the notion of democratic society implies the equality of all citizens that form this society. Moreover, many developed countries declare to be really democratic and each citizen is supposed to have as much rights as any other, regardless social status, level of income, religious beliefs, ethnic origin, language, etc. Unfortunately, in actuality, the situation is quite different from what is often declared and certain inequality may be often observed in different situation in relation to different social groups and naturally the reaction of people on such a situation is different. Notably, if those who really have all civil rights and responsibilities feel quite comfortable they often prefer to simply ignore the problems, which other categories of people may have. The latter feel being deprived by the rest of the society and each group’s position is unique depending on the legislative spectrum they the lack of the declared equality of rights.
Obviously, there is a paradoxical situation when the society is considered to be democratic, i.e. the society where civil rights and responsibilities are presumably equal, but, at the same time, there are some marginalized groups which are deprived by the majority of population and cannot fully realise their civil rights.
Disability and poverty
Unfortunately, one of the main problems that democratic societies often face is the problem of disabled people and the problem of poverty. Often these two problems are closely related to one another. It is evident that disabled people feel to a significant extent isolated from the rest of society due to some physical or health problems which make impossible to lead a normal life as other people do. They are deprived of a possibility to do many things they used to do in the past or what other health people do. Naturally this problem needs immediate solution but in actuality the society and government turn to be unable to fully solve this problem.
For instance, in Canada, despite a relatively good general socio-economic situation, the problem of disabled people remains relevant. There are still some discussion on the definition of the notion of disability while the effectiveness of programs is quite low.
At this respect it is noteworthy that there is “a common failing is to confuse the definition of disability with the eligibility criteria. It is important to remember it is acceptable for different programs to have different objectives. However, it is not the definition of disability that should change from one problem to another, but rather the eligibility criteria” (HRDC 1994). In the same report the following information may also be found: “In Canada, the tendency has been to define disability on the basis of the intentions of programs” (HRDC 1994). As a result, programs in Canada basically tend to comprise a combination of medical, functional, and vocational criteria in defining eligibility and very often not only the cause of disability but also the circumstances under which it occurred are taken into consideration.
Such a situation with the definition of disability and consequently with eligibility for programs resulted in an ambiguity in the policy because if view disability differently consequently the programs should also be changed. Probably, disabled people suffered the most from such an ambiguity. The definition of disability necessarily affects the programs for disabled people in terms of the size, characteristics and needs of disabled population.
Naturally, when there is such a mess in the definition of disability and the programs which actually should aim at the improvement of the position of disabled people, it is practically impossible for those who really need such kind of help and for the society at large to clearly understand all the nuances of legislation, policy and programs worked out by the federal and local governments. Consequently, the situation threatens to the basic principles of democracy since certain categories of Canadian population do not have access to the benefits others can normally use. It is an obvious violation of principles of participatory democracy as it excludes disabled population from the normal, social, political and economic life of the country.
Consequently, disabled people feel deprived of the principle of equality and they perceive their disability as the main cause of such a situation along with indifference or at least low interest of the government and society in their problems.
Not less serious is the problem of poverty. Unfortunately, nowadays material or physical disability is still an object of discriminating attitude. Long human history approves that poor and handicapped people were always oppressed and condemned to sufferings and violation of their rights because they were and still are the weakest and the least protected part of the society. Actually, it is not surprising that since earliest ages people respected two things force and power, given by wealth. For poor and disabled are deprived both of them they logically remain in the lower part of a social structure, such people do not have the same opportunities to realize their abilities as people of middle or upper. Thus, for many people physical disability and poverty are synonymous notions.
As a result, such people against their own will become marginal and do not have equal possibilities to realize their civil rights and personal aptitudes. What is even worse is the fact that they practically do not have a chance to change the situation for better because they cannot compete with those who have better opportunities to realize their life chances.
The reasons for this are quite obvious. Firstly, poor or disabled people do not have a real chance to receive a good education though there may be some exceptions but not numerous. But even if they study they cannot do it like others do. For example, handicapped students need some special conditions and very often special equipment as well as they need specially trained teachers who could work with them. As for poor people, it is really difficult to study when you don’t have any prospects and when you are not sure that you could attend school next day because you had to earn money to live. One may say that government or educational establishments must provide equal opportunities for all students but in real life there are the most prestigious schools and universities for upper classes and schools in suburbs where education has a superficial character.
Practically the same problems are with the employment. It is evident that the main factor for an employer to hire or dismiss an employee is his or her ability to provide the most effective work with the least investments in conditions of work. Consequently, they do not want to bother of such things as accommodation of a disabled worker or other problems of that sort. The last hope to protect the employee’s rights is the court but it is also influenced by traditional stereotypes and tends to ignore such demands and many of such cases are won by employers and a juridical explanation may be as follows: investing costs in making workplace equally accessible to a disabled person makes the civil right coming into conflict with the employer’s property right. For poor people the situation is not better because the rate of unemployment is quite high while their level of qualification is not very high all this make such people less compatible on the market and, consequently, more discriminated. Thus, the myth that everything depends only on a person’s abilities, intelligence and cunningness is just a myth and has nothing in common with the real life
Unfortunately, the problem of disability and poverty remains and like disabled people, poor people also feels deprived but they rather blame their low social status and lack of opportunities to change it than their physical or mental disability to do it. Consequently, poverty is associated by marginalized groups as social exclusion while disability is associated with health problems as the main cause and resulting socio-economic problems as secondary cause of their inequality in civil rights with the rest of society.
Gay marriages
The problem of gay marriages, which has become burning in recent years, especially in western countries revealed another deprived group of people which position is also quite weak in relation to real equality of civil rights and responsibilities. Notably they are deprived one of the main rights of a civil society the right for marriage and this is exactly what marginalize them and what differ them from the rest of society and other deprived categories of people.
In fact the main problem is the gaps in legislation, or more precisely the absence of legislation regulating relations between gays themselves or between gays and the rest of the society, that lead to their isolation and in this sense they may be labeled as a deprived part of the society. Thus, one part of the society, represented by gays, strive for equality with other members of the society, at least through legalization their relations through the institute of marriage, while the other part, that may be defined as a conventional or maybe conservative, wants to sustain the existing situation or even oppose to any attempts to legalize gays family relations.
Nowadays, gay marriage is the subject of public discussions and the solution of the problem is quite difficult from both aspects moral and juridical. Anyway the main and defining in this discussion is public opinion, which is influenced by many factors.
One of such defining factors is the understanding and interpretation of the notion of ‘marriage’ itself. Traditionally, in western society the marriage is defined as “being between one man and one woman” (Chauncy 2004:198). Many people argue to what extent such a definition of marriage is correct and whether it is always true for all people. Naturally, gays cannot have a marriage in its traditional sense.
As a result they attempt to find alternatives, which, nonetheless, do not make their rights fully equal to the rights of the rest of the society. One of such alternative is a so-called ‘separate but equal’ principle. According to this principle, it is suggested to sexual minorities to have civil unions instead of a traditional marriage. However, it is quite contradictive and questionable. On the one hand, it suggests a real prospective for gays and lesbians to legally create their own families and in such a way to legalize their relations. For their opponents it is certainly a great deal but not for the followers of gay marriages who, in their turn, do not treat civil unions as equal to a traditional marriage. Despite the fact that “legally they are one and the same” (Dobson 2004:287) it is still the point for a further discussion. It is quite obvious that civil unions are an attempt to separate a gay marriage from a traditional one by providing it for equivalent, i.e. a civil union.
However, even legally it is not so simple because, for instance, according to Supreme Court’s ruling separate but equal conception violates the Constitution and legislation in the USA. Anyway, even if civil unions and marriages were legally equal there would still remain a certain difference even though purely nominative but anyway it could be perceived as discriminating by followers of gay marriage because it would make gay marriage different from a traditional marriage even if this difference is only formal and from juridical point of view insignificant.
Consequently, civil unions being an alternative to gay marriages are not their substitutes, at least for those who are for gay marriages, and this social group still remains deprived in its particular way.
Position of women
Probably the position of women may be considered as historically deprived for in different cultures women are traditionally deprived of equal rights with men. In the basis of this contradiction are gender differences which often lead to the lack of opportunities for women to be really equal to men.
At this respect, one of the most vivid example is the attitude of the Catholic church to women priests. It is probably the most conservative institution that currently exists in western countries and this is why the deprived position of women in the society is particularly obvious in religious sphere.
In fact, speaking about the problem of the ordination of female priests, Catholic Church rejects this idea. It is obvious that it is not simply a free will of the church leaders but it is the position, the policy of the church that has some reasons to be dominating now.
In order to understand the position of the Catholic Church in this question it is necessary to look at the position of its leaders, i.e. at the position of the Pope. The previous Pope Joan Paul II was a convinced opponent of the ordination of female priests since he said: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry confirming the brethren I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitely held by all the Church’s faithful” (Spong 1998:172).
So, this idea, being proclaimed by the Pope, may be treated as the official position of the Church concerning the problem discussed in terms of this paper. Nonetheless, it is also should be pointed out that the Church attempts to substantiated its position not only with the help of the Pope but on the basis of numerous theological reasons, the Bible and the Church’s traditions.
However, it is obvious that the position of the Catholic Church is very arguable and from the point of view of equality of civil rights it cannot be supported. Nonetheless, it is only one, but probably the most vivid example of women position in the society. As a result they feel deprived and what make them different from other deprived groups is the fact that it is the gender contradictions and stereotypes that are the main reasons why women lacks real equality in civil rights and responsibilities.
Citizenship and socialization of children
Another important problem is the problem of children rights since often they cannot fully realize their civil rights which are formally declared but are hardly realizable in actuality that leads to violation of their rights and what is even worse they are too dependent on their parents and cannot protect their position.
At this respect, a child’s socialization plays a very significant role. There is a very important thing that influences a person’s socialization. It is the social status of the family. It is not a secret that socialization of people of upper and lower classes differs. If in upper classes family children have more attention from the part of the family. Such families are characterized by close and democratic relations. On the contrary, lower class families are more authoritarian (especially families of Asian and Latin American origins) , children don’t have enough communication with their parents, who, in their turn, rely mainly on school in the process of socialization and rearing of their children. As a result the children from such families may be more limited in their rights that naturally is unjust and make children suffer for they are deprived because of their age and authoritarian surrounding and their inequality in civil rights is based on the lack of equal opportunities to realize their rights.
Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that despite the worldwide spread of democratic principles, one of the basic principles of really democratic society the principle of equality of all citizens is often violated, even in the most developed countries. The analysis of different categories of people and social groups reveals the fact that they are deprived in a different ways and what they really have in common is the lack of access to all civil rights the rest of the society has.
It is also evident that there may be found other groups which are also deprived in some rights but what is really important is the understanding that the current democracy cannot provide real equality for all people that means that it is vitally important to work on the problems of the deprived parts of the society in order to sustain democracy as it is understood in its proper sense, otherwise it can be transformed into an idealistic philosophical and socio-political school that is far from real situation.

1. Dobson, James. Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle. Multmonah, 2004.
2. Chauncy, George. Why Marriage?: The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality. New York: Basic Books, 2004.
3. Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services. 2000. “Public Report on the Public Dialogue on the National Children's Agenda — A Shared Vision.” Retrieved Feb. 14, 2006 from http://www.socialunion.gc.ca.
4. Human Resources Development Canada. “Improving Social Security In Canada. Persons With Disabilities.” 1994.
5. Rowe, D.C. The Limits of Family Influence: Genes, Experience, and Behavior. New York: Guilford Press, 1994.
6. Spong, J. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: New Publishers, 1997.

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