Should We Tolerate The Intolerant?

Friday was a fun day at WordPress.com. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) To show support for the Supreme Court’s decision guaranteeing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, we* made a slight change to the toolbar that logged-in users see at the top of their site editor:

That's right, we professed our undying love for Skittles.

That’s right, we professed our undying love for Skittles.

To be clear, the rainbow does not appear anywhere on a user’s visible site. If you have a site at WordPress.com, no one viewing it will see anything different. The toolbar is visible only to you, and only when you are logged into a specific editing section. It’s a simple, subtle nod to Friday’s news.

Well, you would think that it’s a simple, subtle nod….

The offense some people took at the rainbow was disheartening. We were accused of “cramming” our values down people’s throats, of being bigoted and intolerant. A few outspoken users even pointed out how there’s a double-standard in that businesses aren’t allowed to deny service to gays, but WordPress.com can push its pro-gay agenda.

This is where my bullshit-irrational-lack-of-logic alarm started blaring again….

First off, it is illegal for businesses to discriminate based on race, religion, or disability. In some states, this protection from discrimination extends to sexual orientation. As such, a business owner cannot deny service to a potential customer solely because they are gay. That part is true, in some states.

But that’s not what’s going on here. If you believe that homosexuality is wrong for religious reasons, that is your right, and no one at WordPress.com is denying you service because of this. We’re not saying, “If you don’t support gay marriage, then we’re shutting down your blog.” Because that would be discriminatory.

If the rainbow on your toolbar strikes you as a pro-gay, anti-Christian double-standard, then you are in fact creating a false equivalence. Your site and the services we offer are wholly unaffected, so please stop victimizing yourself. Just because you disagree with something we support doesn’t mean we’re discriminating against you.

Furthermore, there’s an inherent hypocrisy in the argument that if gay marriage — or just homosexuality in general — is against your religious beliefs, then people need to be tolerant of that. This is what I often hear from opponents of gay marriage:

“My core religious belief is that homosexuality is wrong. You demand tolerance from me, yet you are intolerant of my beliefs.”

So let’s first compare the two opposing beliefs, and then we can see who’s being tolerant or intolerant. Let’s say these are our respective stances:

  • You believe homosexuality is sinful.
  • I believe gay people should be allowed the same rights and privileges as everyone else.

If we consider the consequences of our beliefs, it becomes clear that they are not opposite and equal. In fact, your belief inflicts much more harm on the other side than the other side can ever inflict on you. If I get my way, gay people can get married, and you get a ding to your moral code. Sure, it infringes on your sense of morality, but it does not affect your personal life in any way.

On the other hand, if you get your way, you infringe on a gay person’s very existence. You deny them the recognition that they are valid human beings, in valid same-sex relationships. How is that anywhere near equivalent?

Now, let’s throw this whole tolerance thing into the fray. Gays are saying, “I have a right to be recognized as a normal person. You need to be tolerant of that.” And you’re saying, “I have a right to recognize you as abnormal. You need to be tolerant of that.”

If you’ve ever used this line of reasoning, do you see that your very belief is the definition of intolerance? You are unwilling to accept that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. The other side is asking for you to be tolerant of their existence, and you’re asking for them to be tolerant of your intolerance.

This is the same false equivalence as before. No one is infringing on your status as a human being. No one is taking any basic rights way from you. Therefore, what you “lost” in light of the Supreme Court’s decision is nothing compared to what gays never had before, and what they’ve finally gained. You still have every right to go on believing that homosexuality is wrong. You just don’t get to oppress gay people with your beliefs anymore.

So again, please stop playing the victim. No one is intolerant of you. We’re only intolerant of your intolerance.

That’s called the Paradox of Tolerance, by the way. And guess what? It’s perfectly reasonable to be intolerant of intolerance.

*Note: I use “we” when referring to WordPress.com because I work for WordPress.com. Nevertheless, the opinions I express in this post are solely my own and not reflective of WordPress.com in general. If you have a bone to pick with anything I wrote here, pick it with me, and me alone.

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I am a relationships and comedy writer, which can be redundant or an oxymoron, depending on your perspective. I am the creator of Musings, the blog you're reading right now, and LemonVibe, an anonymous relationship advice site. You can also find me on Twitter (I am not the creator of Twitter).

6 comments

  • I find it somewhat disheartening that this still needs to explained, but good on you for giving it a shot Dennis. You’ve explained things clearly and simply (two favourites of mine), so hopefully it makes things easier to understand for those who are still confused by this issue.

  • This was a great post, and I am so very sorry that you had to write it. I heard about the shitstorm on the forums, but I didn’t have the stomach to view it firsthand. Thanks for raising the issue and trying to break it down into bite-sized logical bites, though sadly the people who need to consume this logic won’t even deign to taste it.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I’m just glad I wasn’t one of the people working the forums. I think I would’ve had a tough time biting my tongue. 🙂

  • I do think that it’s unfair to imply that there isn’t a double standard when it comes to pro-gay vs. pro-Christian displays. I expect that the feedback people who posted passages from leviticus Friday got from rainbow-profiled readers was less than friendly. The white house was a rainbow a few days ago, around the time that people were cheering about a confederate flag being taken down. The lefter folks have the moral high ground here, but I find it hard to blame the righter ones for feeling under attack in a social climate where people who publicly support your cause get death threats. Gays should be allowed to marry, but everybody should be allowed to state opinions on their own time without worrying about getting fired and doxxed and attacked by what seems like everybody on the internet.

    It seems a little bit intellectually dishonest to equate “thinks homosexuality is sinful” with “thinks homosexuality should be illegal.” It’s easy for me to imagine somebody who can accept that they don’t really have a legal basis for opposing gay marriage, but doesn’t appreciate being inundated with all of these smug, mocking rainbows. “But it’s just a simple subtle nod to an important event in civil rights history!” I hear you cry, you who were recently turned into a troll by microaggressions. It’s very easy to see that they’re overreacting to your innocuous nod, and much harder to remember that we are all constantly pecking at the other side, waiting for them to blow up and give us an opportunity to call them out on their obvious misconduct.

    This is just a pet peeve of mine, but if you make your bold declarative statement into a hyperlink, the hyperlink should support your statement. The first one is great, and the second says something weaker but still closely related. But the wikipedia link just says Popper agrees with you and Rawls disagrees with you except in extreme circumstances which don’t seem to apply here.

    Lastly, your post reminded me of this one http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anything-except-the-outgroup/ which is somewhat related, and definitely worth reading.

    • In that case, I would counter that we’re all guilty of selective bias. For every religious person who’s felt “under attack,” I can name you a gay person who feels the same way. So why don’t we just call that a wash and say that both sides have been pushing their agenda, and yeah, it gets old on both sides?

      But guess what, this is how discourse — and ultimately, compromise — occurs.

      The Wikipedia link was to define the Paradox of Tolerance and explain that it can be acceptable to be intolerant of intolerance.

      Thanks, I’ll check out the link you posted. It’s a long read, so I’m commenting now and reading later.

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