Past achievements and
current status in North America
Human rights in North America:
In colonial North America, full and equal rights were historically restricted to
a small minority. Over the centuries, the U.S. and Canada have moved towards a culture
promoting "liberty and justice for all" persons.
Change has only happened gradually, and usually has had to overcome strong
opposition. The rate of change has been much too fast for many people's comfort. Each change had to be fought for.
Each was considered radical at the
time. With the passage of time, these changes eventually became fully accepted
as part of our culture. Few would wish to see them reversed. Only extremist groups today promote a return to:
In spite of changes in the law, individuals expressing racism, sexism,
homophobia, 3 transphobia, 4 xenophobia, and other
forms of hatred continue to oppress people at a person-to-person level.
North American civil rights
Some major American, and a few Canadian civil rights developments were:
Colonial times: Only white, heterosexual, cisgendered, 2
land-owning, male, Protestant Christians enjoyed a
full set of civil rights.
1791: The Bill of Rights, which are the first ten amendments to the
U.S. Constitution, theoretically eliminated religious discrimination, except
for Native Americans. All white, free males were given the vote, independent of
their financial status.
1865: The civil war eliminated human slavery and gave some rights to African
Americans, including -- to many for the first time -- the right to marry.
1920: Women won the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Votes
for women had been first seriously proposed in the U.S. during 1848. In 1929, women were first recognized as "persons" in Canada.
Due to an "oversight" in the constitution of Lower Canada (Quebec) between
1791 and 1849, some women in Quebec, Canada
who met property ownership criteria could vote -- the first women in North
America with that right. Due largely to strong opposition by the
Roman Catholic Church, Quebec was also the last jurisdiction
in North America to allow women to vote. Full voting equality was finally won in 1940.
1950s - 1960s: African Americans and their supporters used sit-ins
and other types of demonstrations to protest racial segregation, denial of the
vote, and lack of opportunities. They achieved some successes.
1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibited
discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, and national origin by
federal and state governments. Discrimination on the basis of
sexual orientation, and
gender identity are still legal in most areas of the U.S, and remain so
1967: Loving, committed inter-racial couples were allowed to marry anywhere in
the U.S. after a landmark civil rights ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in an
ironically named case "Loving v. Virginia."
1968: The Fair Housing Act outlawed racial segregation in schools,
public places, and employment.
1969: The gay rights movement was triggered by the
Stonewall riots in New York's
City's Greenwich Village in reaction to one too many unprovoked police attacks.
1978: Many guarantees of religious rights were given to American Natives
with the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
2003: Private consensual sexual activity between persons of the same sex was legalized
throughout the U.S. by
the Lawrence v. Texas ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.
This overturned laws in 16 states that criminalized same-sex sexual behavior.
Current civil rights conflicts:
At the present time, the main struggles for equal protections and rights
Persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation.
They continue to advance towards equality with heterosexuals.
Polls have shown that this civil rights conflict is the greatest
religious and social conservatives, even more important than restricting
abortion access. Under debate is
whether persons of all sexual orientations (heterosexual, bisexual and
homosexual) be given:
Equal protections against discrimination in employment.
Equal protections in accommodation.
Equal protection from hate crimes.
Equal access to marriage, its rights and protections.
Women. Although they have made major progress over
the past decade, some religious groups -- notably fundamentalist Protestant
denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches and Orthodox
Jewish traditions, routinely reject women for ordination because of their sex.
They are also excluded from some assignments in the military.
Who are the main advocates in civil rights conflicts?
In the past, civil rights conflicts have been mainly between:
An oppressed group, and their supporters, vs.
In the 19th century conflict was between African American slaves and their supporters vs whites over whether
slavery should be abolished.
In the 20th century between women and their supporters vs. men over whether
the all adults should be allowed to vote.
Modern-day conflicts are typically between religious and social
conservatives, vs a broad range of other groups. A good illustration of this
was seen at the first hearing by the Hawaiian House
Judiciary Committee on 2009-FEB-05 concerning bill HB 444. That bill
would create a partial type of marriage equity in the state. It would allow loving,
committed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions and receive all of state
benefits and rights that are a special privilege restricted to married opposite-sex
Those opposing the bill at the hearing were:
Gary Okino, a councilperson and apparently an evangelical Christian.
A representative of the Roman Catholic church.
A representative from Christian Voice of Hawaii, a conservative
Christian advocacy group.
Representatives from various departments of Brigham Young University,
which is associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(a.k.a. LDS and the Mormons).
Individuals, making personal statements. All are believed to be religious conservatives.
Those supporting the bill and partial marriage equity included
Unitarian Universalist Church of Hawaii, the state Interfaith Council, American Friends of Hawaii (Quakers),
and a rabbi of the Reform Judaism tradition;
Labor, public education, civil rights, and university student groups;
Democratic Party of Hawaii, The National Association of Social
Workers, Planned Parenthood;
Three LGBT support groups;
Filipinos for Affirmative Action; the Women's Center University of
Hawaii, Manoa; the League of Women Voters, Hawaii;
Individuals, all believed to be secularists, religious moderates or
A tearful young lesbian woman of unknown faith whose sister is getting married in the near
future. She begged the committee members:
"Please, please don't make me leave my home and family and move somewhere else
so I can have the same rights as my sister. Do you really want the children of
this island to have to leave? Don't we matter, too? Please don't force me to
leave my home."
References and footnotes:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR), United Nations,
A cisgendered person is one whose genetic gender matches their perceived
gender (a.k.a. gender identity). transgender
persons are generally regarded as those having a mismatch between their genetic
gender and their perceived gender.
The term "homophobia" has multiple meanings.
On this website we define it as engaging in an action aimed at denigrating,
or restricting the human rights of, persons who have a
homosexual orientation and/or who engages in homosexual behavior. Examples
of actions are
harassment of gays, lesbians and bisexuals
Passing or maintaining laws that deprive homosexuals of job protection,
accommodation protection, hate-crimes protection, and
The term "transphobia" also has multiple
meanings. On this website we define it as as engaging in an action aimed at
denigrating, or restricting the human rights of, persons who are
transgender. Examples of transphobic actions are
trans-bashing -- physical assaults and sometimes murder,
harassment of transgender persons or transsexuals, and
Passing or maintaining laws that deprive transgender persons or
transsexuals of job protection, accommodation protection, and hate-crimes