At the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, the conservative senator Stephen Douglas wielded racist sentiment like a katana. Lincoln was rather ambivalent toward the issue of slavery, only opposing it because of the instability of the slave system. Nevertheless, Douglas capitalized on the prejudices of the American public of the age, and went as far as to say that Lincoln was…
150 years ago, abolitionism was a radical fringe movement. In the white-centric society, few stood up for the rights of the slave-drivers’ “property”.
Even 50 years ago, civil rights took center stage. In the conservative former slave-states, previously unquestionable Black codes and Jim Crow laws that dominated the scene for a hundred years were put into question.
Now, of course, we live in a world where racial equality is a basic right guaranteed under the law (unfortunately, not always in practice). The thought of racial discrimination is worrisome for most, and slavery is positively repulsive. Scientific advances, such as the elucidation of inheritance principles, have morphed our society into one where discrimination on the basis of immutable genetic traits is unjust. Race is one of these genetic trates, mental capacity is another, and disease is a third.
Stepping back for a second, we can see that societies tend to become more liberal as time goes on. Discrimination based on race and other genetic factors, once considered part of the natural order, is now more or less gone (or at worst, not publicly displayed).
Today’s main civil rights debate is that of sexual orientation. Homosexuality in ages past was (and in some places, still is) taboo. Homosexuals have historically been discriminated against with society’s most brutal treatments - ostracization, and in some cases, reeducation or execution.
Clearly, the treatment of homosexuals has improved exponentially over the past few decades. However, there is one hurdle remaining to complete equality: marriage.
The trump card for advocates of homosexual rights - and therefore, civil rights - is slowly being revealed, though. Scientists studying the Drosophila fruit fly last year found that they could turn homosexuality on and off by modifying a gene. While the results are only preliminary, they do suggest that homosexuality has a genetic basis. Hopefully, as further research is done into this, it will strike the death blow for anti-gay marriage campaigns. If homosexuality really is genetic (which, judging by these results, it does seem to be), then discrimination of any kind by virtue of sexual orientation will die.
Nevertheless, as time goes on, chances are, all opposition to gay and lesbian rights will phase out, regardless of scientific study. If past history is any indicator, then as history progresses, we will see society slowly progress as well. Harmful tradition and prejudice are always fighting a losing battle against time. Though conservatives might be able to delay the inevitable, the truth - everything that is right and just - will always go marching on.