I am very pleased that Congress has now eliminated the ban on gay people serving openly in the US armed forces. I know many gay people who have served with distinction during the last decade, and it always pained me that they could have been discharged if their sexual orientation had been made known. Who knows how many other qualified people chose not to serve because of the previous law.
I am struck by how long it takes for society to overcome its prejudices. As I welcome our new employees each week, I tell them the story of the establishment of Beth Israel Hospital in 1916, which occurred because of discrimination against Jewish doctors and Jewish patients. Young people look at me in incredulity, wondering how a society could be so prejudiced. Well, I know doctors who tell me that such discrimination lasted through the 1960's for them here in Boston, limiting their professional options, or causing them to legally change their names to keep those options open.
I have read that prejudice and discrimination may have an evolutionary basis, rooted in the nature of primate and human subsistence groups. Here's just one example, gleaned from a quick Google search, from a 2004 paper by Harold D. Fishbein, Department of Psychology at the University of Cincinnati:
Our genetic/evolutionary heritage provides the initial push toward prejudice. My essential argument is that three sets of genetic/evolutionary processes that lead to prejudice and discrimination evolved in hunter-gatherer tribes. They were appropriate and necessary for that subsistence mode, which characterizes 99% of human existence.
I guess it is hard to counteract this stuff if it is really wired into our brains as a result of thousands of years of genetic selection. On the other hand, we should be advanced enough not to let us use our evolutionary inclinations as an excuse for inaction or continued discrimination or political grandstanding.