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Gay marriage and tolerance

7th February 2013

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The passing of the gay marriage bill has caused a nationwide split in opinion. A quick glance at the comments sections of the major left-leaning / right-leaning media websites is evidence of that. Indeed, comments from The Guardian and The Independent generally celebrate the passing of the bill, describing it as a victory for equality and social progress; whilst those from The Telegraph and The Daily Mail deplore the government in proposing a bill it has no mandate for, a bill that trashes tradition and sets a precedent for further ‘damage’ to the institution of marriage.

The left brand the right as bigoted, homophobic Nazis; the right brand the left as Marxist conspiracy theorists intent on corrupting society. Whilst people scramble to decide which side they’re on and prepare to join in on the heckling, it should be pointed out that this kind of ideological warfare helps nobody: such a split in opinion makes constructive debate impossible.

The governing maxim that should always be remembered in debates such as these is that in a free, tolerant and equal society, consenting adults can act as they please as long as their actions do not harm other people. To me, the present issue – gay marriage – does not fall under the bracket of harming other people, and therefore I believe that consenting adults should be free to practice it. However, this does not suddenly mean that I get to label those who disagree with me ‘bigots’ or ‘homophobes’. Rather, I should invite those who disagree with me to present their argument, and debate with them accordingly.

Indeed, to those against the bill (mostly on the right-wing of the political spectrum), allowing gay people to wed does harm other people, in that it causes major upheaval to the institution of marriage – an institution central to most right-wing ideology – and in turn undermines the foundation of family and subsequently of society. This argument is based solely on a conservative respect for tradition, rather than on any homophobic prejudice. Yet those who advocate such an argument are, rather than engaged with reasonably, branded just that – prejudiced homophobes.

In other words, we need to start being more tolerant of differing opinions about tolerance. Emotional sensitivity drowns reason in a sea of ‘you can’t say that!’ ‘that offends me you bigot!’ ‘you are disgusting’. Intolerance merely breeds more intolerance, hate breeds hate and name-calling breeds name-calling. They who sneer at those dreadfully homophobic readers of The Telegraph on The Guardian comments sections are no better than the appalled Daily Mail reader who, reacting to the passing of the bill, commented ‘" am sick to death of liberalism, it’s like some toxic disease spreading to all aspects of life in the western world. NO to same sex marriage!" – receiving 299 plus votes for such a contribution.   

Reason and independent thought should govern debates on such contentious issues as gay marriage, not irrational and petty ideological point-scoring that is facilitated through major media groups. If we can start engaging in reasoned, logical debate rather than in hysterical and dramatic name-calling, then perhaps we can really start celebrating a victory for social progress. 

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