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Tolerance and intolerance

| Monday, April 24, 2017

In my political philosophy class last week, our discussion about the meaning of the word “intolerance” in John Rawls’s “A Theory of” provoked a strong and healthy debate about same-sex marriage. One of my classmates was discussing how people holding intolerant views in modern-day society ought to be treated by supposedly “tolerant” individuals. He argued that people who oppose government recognition of same-sex marriage are inherently intolerant because this recently-legalized institution is a “human right.” Thus, while a society should allow people to hold such views, those views are naturally wrong.

I wholeheartedly disagree. A practice like same-sex marriage is not a “human right” just because one happens to agree with it. Furthermore, the millions of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage aren’t fundamentally intolerant of LGBT people; they just disagree with the idea that the government should be recognizing same-sex marriages.

My argument in class, however, was more precise. I argued that the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage was, practically speaking, nothing more than a requirement that the government hand out entitlements in the form of marriage licenses. This was very similar to what Justice Clarence Thomas said in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent: “Liberty has long been understood as individual freedom from governmental action, not as a right to a particular governmental entitlement.” Is a government entitlement the same thing as a “human right?” Certainly not.

Moreover, I pointed out that the government does not exist to make individuals feel loved; rather it exists simply to create and enforce the law. As Justice Thomas said, “The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.” Only individuals, not the government, have the ability to love and be loved by others.

It is not “intolerant” to believe that government entitlements are not human rights (they aren’t). It is also not “intolerant” to believe that the government is not responsible for giving people dignity (it can’t). I’m sure there are many people who would label me a homophobe for holding these views (I’m not). However, I welcomed this debate because civil disagreement is something that our society desperately needs.

Brennan Buhr
Feb. 24

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Annette Magjuka

    Brennan, LGBT people want to be “left alone” to marry whomever they love and want to marry. They want to be “left alone” and not to be fired from jobs, not to be restricted from housing, and, I am sure, in places like Uganda and Chechnya, not to be rounded up, tortured, and murdered. So, as Justice Thomas (and you) assert, the standard of “leave alone” applies. LGBT people should be allowed to marry civilly. Religious institutions can assert whatever “holy rules and regulations” they want in order to marry within the church(es), but in America, there should be freedom for ALL, not just the ruling majority.

    • Luis ES

      Annette, first of all thanks for being respectful when disagreeing with Brennan. Unfortunately people too often resort to insults in this types of discussions. I wholeheartedly agree with you that LGBT individuals (and really everyone) should have their dignity protected by the law, and people loosing jobs, being barred from housing, and even persecuted is an attempt against that human dignity. I agree with Brennan that the law does not give or take dignity away, but it does serve to protect it.
      That said, I believe there exist reasonable, non-religious, arguments in favor of a definition of marriage that is “a comprehensive union of a man and a woman, meaning permanent and exclusive”. One has to ask why civil marriage exists and what purpose it serves to society. Is it about recognizing and affirming genuine romantic love between individuals? Or is it about encouraging that children born into society have the support of both their parents throughout their lifetime? I believe the latter makes much more legal sense, as the civil marriage licence confers legal benefits that encourage and promote couples who are likely to bear children to live and build a stable home together. Furthermore law shapes our culture, and the idea of permanent and exclusive union promotes fathers to stay by their children. A mother will always be there when a child is born, but far too often that is not the case for the father. Under what pretense can we say that a father should be there for his child when our legal institution of marriage says gender in non-consequential (i.e. having both a mother and a father is not important). Modern views of marriage espouse this idea, and while the intentions are noble (i.e. fighting a perceived attack on the dignity of LGBT individuals) the consequences of redefining what marriage means socially can be disastrous for children in the long run.
      My point is that there are non-religious arguments for defending the idea of marriage being between a man and a woman. I personally find these arguments more compelling than those in favor of same-sex or poly-amorous marriage, but I respectfully recognize others do not. What is important is that dialogue remains respectful and tolerant. Tolerance by definition requires being in disagreement with the other persons views.
      Thanks again for keeping the discussion respectful!


      • Annette Magjuka

        The historic reason for marriage was to preserve assets of land and power. Women were once considered property and came with financial incentives, to be bartered from father to father in an attempt to grow assets and retain and expand familial power. Children were part of the bargain as heirs to said assets and power. In America, there are remnants of this definition, although we like to pretend that men and women are equal. Today couples marry for a variety of reasons, not just to have children. All reasons should be honored in a pluralistic society. No one religious institution or tradition should “define” marriage. In America, each individual is afforded rights to privacy and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage could and may be part of this for individuals, regardless of religion or the attempt to protect children. Your child centric definition of marriage is extremely flawed, as the United States does not require men to care for their children. Men can and often do walk away from their children (“responsibilities”) and then use the threat of separation of the mother from her children to maintain the upper hand financially. Bottom line, each individual should be able to enter into a monogamous and committed relationship civilly, regardless of gender (this is legal in every state). Religious institutions can confer a religious “marriage” according to their particular belief system.

        • Bailey

          “The historic reason for marriage was to preserve assets of land and power. Women were once considered property and came with financial incentives, to be bartered from father to father in an attempt to grow assets and retain and expand familial power.”

          Tell that to your ancestors–the tribal peasants.

          “In America, there are remnants of this definition, although we like to pretend that men and women are equal.”

          Women and men were never equal. In order for a woman to be the equal of a man, she would have to climb backwards down a ladder and fall flat on her face–then should would be the equal of a man.

          Feminism sought to make woman the equal to the lowest form of a man–the cad. The 1060s feminists bare little resemblance to those of the 19th century. Those of the 1960s used feminism for a different political agenda that had little to do with women and more to do with protecting pharmaceutical companies and doctors from criminal prosecutions for illegal behaviors. he women were well paid to betray their sisterhood.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            So you oppose gender equality? What an idiot.

      • Tom Z.

        “Modern views of marriage espouse this idea, and while the intentions are noble (i.e. fighting a perceived attack on the dignity of LGBT individuals) the consequences of redefining what marriage means socially can be disastrous for children in the long run.”

        This is a terrible statement that has no basis in reality and no credible studies to support it. This is a homophobic statement and does not deserve to be treated with respect as it is just plain wrong and your unfounded opinion. Same-sex marriage is equality and denying such is treating one group of people differently and worse than others because of their sexual orientation they were born with. To think that marriage is and always should be ONLY between a man and a woman is simple bigotry and it should not be tolerated in modern society.

        • Kim

          Studies show that children raised by their biological parents (both of them) do better than their peers who are raised in any other situation. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/06/5640/ Homosexual couples cannot be both biological parents of the child. Pointing out that the children of homosexual relationships are at a disadvantage is entirely un-bigoted and based in reality.

  • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

    If you think that LGBT people shouldn’t have the same rights and cisgender heterosexual people then I’m sorry to tell you, but yes, you are prejudiced. Instead of saying “I’m not a homophobe” before making homophobic remarks, you should accept that you make mistakes and are prejudiced and try to fix those same mistakes.
    Same-sex marriage is not a privilege. Privilege would be if LGBT people didn’t pay taxes. Like churches or corporations.

    • Bailey

      LGBT people have the same rights. They do not have the right to special rights.
      Accusations are nothing more than gossip for headlines. Repeating them and accepting any accusation as a fact, makes one not intelligent but a washwoman.
      I would cite Clarence Thomas’ wisdom at any time, anywhere and compare it to Anthony Kennedy’s lack thereof as an explanation for Kennedy’s impoverished intellect.

      • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

        Marriage isn’t a special right, idiot. By Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage is a constitutional right.

        • Bailey

          Marriage is not a “right” but a recognition of reality.
          Obergefell is a recognition of the governmental establishment of the “religion” of Secular Humanism which denies reality and holds relativism as its shaky foundation which is in total opposition to Constitutionally grounded principles of self -evident truth, moron.

          • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

            The 1st amendment guarantees freedom of religion, which means that you can’t use religion to attack other people’s rights. If you don’t like it, move to Saudi Arabia.

  • Marriage has evolved as we, as humans, have evolved.

    As an “institution”, “marriage” was created primarily as a social construct. Annette’s summation of this is spot-on.

    Yet, even before the notion of property rights, our ancestors stumbled into a fairly utilitarian reason/purpose for marriage: it’s a foundational good for society. Why? Not because children are {usual and inevitable} products of female-male couplings and it is entirely optimal/appropriate to ensure that children remain with their parents. More fundamental, though, was the {obvious} realization that the poaching of mates does not contribute positively to social “order” and “harmony” – stealing someone’s mate is not usually met with rejoicing. If one is a member of a tribe whose very physical existence is threatened daily – drought, famine, disease, enemies, etc. – the preservation of life for your tribe is, first, securing the longevity of the tribe. Children secure tribal longevity tangentially: children are secondary, effects, after-the-fact products, there can be no children if a tribe/society/culture kills off the agents that create children. As a species “living on the edges”, we realized, through centuries and millennia of trial and error, preserving social order = tribal longevity, and one manner in which to secure longevity is for tribe members to agree to certain principles, one being that it’s simply not cool to steal someone’s partner – that threatens tribal harmony and survival.

    {Aside: It was only with the development of “religion” (which, incidentally, came after the advents of “law” and “property” and “economics” as institutions, for the same reasons marriage was deemed a societal “good”) did “marriage” become imbued with spiritual significance and importance.}

    The “primary” good of marriage is foundational for the survival of a tribe, not through the birth of children but for establishing favorable conditions in which children might be birthed and raised.

    • Bailey

      “As an “institution”, “marriage” was created primarily as a social construct. ”

      That’s like saying schools were created as institutions to pass on knowledge–as if the passing on of knowledge from one generation to the next weren’t happening before schools were created.

      Obviously marriages happened since the beginning of time and the rules of such relationships were obviously set by women to tame men who would otherwise run around with no direction or purpose.

    • Bailey

      “Marriage has evolved as we, as humans, have evolved.”

      Devoolved, you mean.