Tuesday, May 26, 2009

With This Ring I Do Thee Define

Now that the California Supreme Court has confirmed the legitimacy of all those same-sex couples who married during the brief window when gay marriage was legal, I'm wondering how many other "window tribes" there are, that is, select groups of people who for one reason or another gained status that was denied to those before them and to those who came after.

I'm thinking and I'm thinking ... but I'm not remembering. Surely there are some citizen categories related to wartime?? Any help out there?

Tangentially, I recall the fun we used to have back in South Africa's apartheid days ridiculing the regime's obsession with classification, though that was all about the fluidity of identity as the rules changed, the fact you could go to sleep one way and wake up another.

Just a three-minute Google search pulled this out of the Times of London.

Each year, the official Government Gazette would register the number of people who had been re-classified on racial grounds. As late as 1984 there were still re-classifications.

• 518 coloured people were defined as white.
• Two whites were classified Chinese.
• One white was reclassified Indian.
• One white became coloured.
• 89 coloured people became African.

At first, classification was based largely on "general appearance" rather than any notion of racial purity, but by 1960 the criteria had become "acceptance". It created the conditions whereby "informers" could raise questions about an individual’s classification and vendettas could be settled by casting doubt about a person’s "acceptability" as a member of a particular racial group. In the 1960s, at a cost of R20, one could lodge an objection to a person’s classification leading to an investigation of their background and social relationships.

"Should a man who is initially classified white have a number of coloured friends and spend many of his leisure hours in their company, he stands to risk being re-classified as coloured. This is a method of preventing friendships across an arbitrarily determined colour line, which is one of the objectives of present policies"

("Race classification in South Africa: Its effects on human beings", Fact Paper published by the South African Institute of Race Relations, No. 2, 1958, p. 25).

In 2010 or 2012, the electorate will vote a new wave of picket-fence and Target-store wannabes onto the island of legal matrimony, or so I hope. But, for now, at least the Supreme Court has saved us from a historical footnote that says on May 26, 2009, the state of California transformed 36,000 respectable married folk into shackers of up.

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