This country has always reflected the evolving conscience of its society. From our victory over the English during the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War that led to the end of slavery, as well as women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, women’s liberation and the ongoing fight for equality, we have seen the tide shift from one standard way of thinking toward progressive ideals. We have captured the audience of the world as a nation of immigrants paving our own way with ideal goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and a Constitution for “We, the people …”

While such dynamic cultural shifts seemed to have leveled off over the last several decades, over the last year and, more specifically, the last month, we have seen some critical changes in the way our lawmakers do business. It seems unfortunate that the more conservative lawmakers only began to open up to the prospect of progressive ideas after they lost so badly during the last election, but whether or not their intentions are pure, it’s refreshing to see that the party of “no” is now willing to move to the party of “definitely maybe.” The latest in cultural and legislative shifts include:

Immigration reform: Last fall, legislators woke up to the harsh reality that immigrants, here legally or not, Latino or otherwise, can influence an election. Now that the reality has sunk in, the Obama administration, legislators and representatives of Latino organizations across the country evidently feel it is the best time to broach the issue. One legislative consideration includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. While conservative legislators appear willing to talk about such an endeavor only if it is in conjunction with stronger border security, President Barack Obama doesn’t support such a link. Other considerations include a crackdown on employers hiring illegal immigrants as well as stream lining the legal immigration system. Since the status quo has seemingly been mostly deportation and employer crackdown, these delusions are major progressive strikes against the status quo.

Women in combat: On Jan. 24, the Pentagon announced that it would lift the ban on women in combat, though some jobs may still be off limits as women are phased into different areas of the military. One small step for the U.S. military, one major step for the women’s liberation movement.

Abortion is still legal, 40 years later: Despite the continuous protests against abortion, the ruling on Roe v. Wade in 1973 — the right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment was extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion — still remains the law of the land. While certain states have since passed laws restricting women’s access to safe abortions, the right to do so remains intact. After the ruling, abortion rates went up drastically during 1980s but the rate, year over year, has been on the decline, almost back to the same level as when it was illegal in 44 states. And whether or not we want to admit it, unsafe and illegal abortions that led to the deaths of as many 5,000 women each year before Roe v. Wade should not ever again be the standard we settle for.

The debate on gun control: Since the Newtown, Conn., shooting of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, this country has become just about as polarized as it can be on the issue of gun control regulation and even of a ban on assault weapons. For it or against it, it’s reprehensible that the murders of innocent people at Virginia Tech and in Tucson, Ariz., and Aurora, Colo., weren’t enough to spur this debate. But at least it is happening now, no matter how dismal the prospect of actually passing such legislation.

The status quo no longer acceptable for the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America: Though not directly due to any legislators’ intervention, just the general public having had enough, the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America are now facing scrutiny for hiding decades of child abuse, molestation and misconduct. And while prosecutors and attorneys wade through the tens of thousands of documents recording the abuse and the ensuing cover ups, there has been a shift in standard thinking, at least in the Boy Scouts. This week, officials for the organization announced they would be considering allowing gay boys to join the Scouts. For those still prejudiced against homosexuals, please remember that it wasn’t homosexuals who infiltrated these organizations and did these illegal and disgusting deeds to innocent children. These perpetrators were pedophiles.

We still have a long way to go and a lot of ground to cover in moving this country forward to a united and peaceful society, but at least we are on our way. And though we will continue to hear disappointing news, such as the recent closure of the office that would have shut down Guantanamo officially, we can’t ignore where we have been, where we are and where we are headed. The future appears bright and, for now, we have finally come to a place where we can’t ignore what is happening around us.