This week, a Conservative U.S. Senator reversed his position on gay marriage. The reason? His son announced that he is gay.
The Senator's personal decision crystallizes the nature of human discrimination. Planted in the minds of children and sustained by fear and ignorance, negative feelings toward persons of another race or culture persist. So too do we learn to discriminate against those with physical or mental disabilities and those who manifest atypical behavior. Homosexuality, derided as a mental illness or a sinful indulgence throughout human history, remains a target of discrimination, even in light of scientific evidence that sexual orientation is a genetic trait.
Once ingrained, intolerance of those unlike ourselves tends to persist until we are forced to confront those attitudes through personal experience or intimate relationships. Those who remain sheltered from such interactions retain their zealous intolerance while those who develop a close association with past targets of discrimination come to respect those individuals and support their rights. Education and social interaction are the keys to ending discrimination on a personal level; to eliminate intolerance on a broader scale, public pressure must weigh on those entrusted with writing and enforcing our laws (like Senators, for instance).