Throughout the history of civilization we have come up with “natural” civil rights that we believe are self-evident. But these rights are not self-evident. If they were, society would have been enshrining them in law 2,000 years ago.
When our country was founded it enshrined the civil rights that society at that time believed constituted all of the basic civil rights in the constitution and bill of rights.
At that time not only was slavery enshrined in the constitution but the concept of true equality between the races was held by only a small minority. Equal rights for women wasn’t even on the radar.
Over time we did finally enshrine equal rights based on race into the constitution. And while equal rights for women did not make it into the constitution, it is enshrined throughout our laws.
But this did not happen because these two rights were natural rights. They occurred because as a society, through a very contentious process, made a decision that these rights should be treated as basic civil rights.
So now let’s talk about the civil rights that are presently in the contentious phase, gay marriage and abortion. These are not natural civil rights just as all others were not natural. It is a decision we as a society are in the process of making.
In the case of gay marriage it’s coming very soon. After another 3 – 5 years of old people dying the electorate will have shifted enough. It sucks that we aren’t there yet, but society is clearly on the road to determining that this is a basic civil right.
The discussion on abortion was ended with Roe. Because the political sphere had no control, rather than discussion we have had the two sides shouting to their base with the right occasionally passing a law they know will be shot down. But until we do have this conversation and work through the contentious process, this is not a civil right, it’s a policy decided by 5 appointed justices.
A more interesting question is what will come next as a civil right. Some possibilities are healthcare, a proper diet, a quality education, a decent job, or something else.
But the key point to this I think is it’s not sufficient to say something is of course a civil right and needs to be treated that way. Many of us may be of the opinion that something should be a civil right. But it requires convincing a majority in society that it is that fundamental for it to become a civil right.
And that’s a good thing. Because there are some who want “rights” you would view as heinous enshrined as civil rights.