Jesse Jackson

Human rights icon Jesse Jackson has called for gay equality, describing gays and lesbians as America’s newest “second-class citizens”.

Jackson made the statement in a speech outside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco, which is the venue for hearings on the Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriage in California.

For the first time, the civil rights activist and Baptist minister also expressed his support for full same-sex marriage rights.

“It’s time to challenge ignorance, a time to break the silence and the chains of hatred, of divisive and discriminatory bigotry. Marriage is based on love and commitment – not on sexual orientation. I support the right for any person to marry the person of their choosing,” he said.

Jackson, controversially compared the struggle for gay and lesbian civil rights with the fight for equality by black African Americans.

“African-Americans know too well the sting of legal, state sanctioned, constitutionally driven ‘second class’ citizenship – from centuries of legal slavery and Jim Crow segregation, to classified as three-fifths of a human being in the US Constitution, to facing anti-miscegenation laws that prevented blacks from marrying whites.

“We cannot not sit idly by while Prop 8 seeks to target gays and lesbians for a disfavoured legal status, as America’s newest “second-class citizens,” he said.

Jackson (69) is considered one of the most influential African America leaders in the US and played a key role in the international fight against apartheid in South Africa.

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