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Getting Rid of Tolerance

Over at The Chronicle Review, Suzanna Danuta Walters has a piece on gay rights and tolerance that shows, if nothing else, how fighting for gay rights has become a religion–and a particularly extreme one–to some folks:

In truth, I couldn’t have imagined the world we live in now—some of us, that is, here in America. The changes have been well documented. In media, Orange Is the New Black reigns, and queers increasingly pop up in everyday dramas and award-winning comedies. In politics, more gays and lesbians are in local and national office, and antidiscrimination laws are de rigueur for the Fortune 500 and some municipalities. In our private lives, earnest heterosexuals declare their support for gay rights and their fondness for their gay friends, neighbors, family members. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed, and marriage equality seems to have won the day, prompting more than one blogger to note that it’s fashionable to support gay marriage.

I could go on. But that story is oft told. A familiar narrative of inevitable progress, it wraps us in a warm blanket of American exceptionalism. Pundits and pollsters declare, with more unanimity than is typical in political prognostications, that the end of homophobia is just around the corner. Breathless tales of the triumph of tolerance and self-satisfied encomiums on our post-gay new world dominate our national discourse, with dissenting voices to be found only on the wary queer left and the furious Christian right. For most, marriage + military inclusion + a few queers on TV = rainbow nirvana.

But it isn’t, Walters argues. The problem is that we still allow religious individuals to think that homosexuality is wrong. As a culture we encourage these folks to “tolerate” homosexuality, but, Walters writes, “the toleration proves the thing (the person, the sexuality, the food) to be irredeemably nasty to begin with.” And since there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, the only right response is acceptance:

Tolerance is not just a low bar; it actively undercuts robust integration and social belonging by allowing the warp and woof of anti-gay animus to go unchallenged. Tolerance allows us to celebrate (hysterically) the coming out of macho professional athletes as a triumphant sign of liberation rather than a sad commentary on the persistence of the closet and the hold of masculinist ideals. Tolerance allows religious “objections” to queer lives to remain in place, even as it claims that a civilized society leaves its homos alone. Tolerance pushes for marriage equality and simultaneously assures anxious allies that it won’t change their marriages or their lives.

Tolerance allows “anti-gay animus to go unchallenged”? Really? In reality, what it does is allow folks who disagree with Walters to voice that disagreement—something she seems unable to stomach—so she proposes we get rid of tolerance itself.

This is the way of religious extremism. There is nothing wrong with holding that my beliefs are true and yours are false, or even that people who disagree with me are willfully, irrationally, satanically, espousing a lie. Where things start to go south is when I demand that others recant or suffer the consequences because their disbelief is an offense to the great deity. Danuta does not quite take this very last step (she does call for religious objectors to drop all objections), but once tolerance has been thrown out, what’s to stop her, or anyone else, from punishing us “stubborn” gay deniers?

What’s interesting, too, is that she also argues against the idea (and rightly so in my view) that homosexuality is genetically determined, which makes the link between this particular strand of gay rights advocacy and religion even stronger. Homosexuality should be accepted not because it is a genetic predisposition but because, well, it is right and good. While she writes that “Difference…makes a difference,” what she actually argues for is a nation united in its love of gayness—a true “rainbow nirvana” where all differences are allowed, except one.

about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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