I’ve once again been pondering the Marriage Equality Survey, and the tsunami of side effects that its very existence has unleashed. Forefront in my mind today is the business with Margaret Court being dumped from her tennis club, because her tennis club have rightly decided that being associated with a famous homophobic bigot is not their best look.
Then, elsewhere on the internet, someone posted words to the effect of: “you wouldn’t be celebrating if she’d been ditched for being homosexual.”
No. No, I wouldn’t.
This got me thinking because there’s potentially a problem there. For a while I didn’t know how to articulate why ditching one person on account of their views and preferences (i.e. a homophobe) is correct and appropriate and good, but ditching another (i.e. a homosexual) would be a terrible thing.
Then I realised it’s because these arguments are not the equivalent of each other. People who seek to deny rights to others frequently try to introduce equivalence where none exists. It’s how they keep you distracted while they work the con. It comes down to the paradox of tolerance (something that has recently been doing the rounds on Facebook … I can’t imagine why) which tells us that in order to be a tolerant society we must be intolerant of intolerance.
A tolerant society is once that embraces diversity. Intolerance is the opposite of that, therefore it does not deserve tolerance.
The argument in favour of equal marriage rights is entirely about tolerance and acceptance. Simply put, we believe that all other people should have the same rights that most of us already do: to be treated as equal human beings. The argument against equal marriage is exactly the opposite of that: it’s seeking to deny equal rights to specific people based on arbitrary characteristics (and by arbitrary, I don’t mean inconsequential: I mean characteristics that should have no impact on a person’s place as a member of society).
Opposite does not mean equivalent. Taking something away is not the equivalent of giving something.
In other words, Margaret Court wasn’t ditched because she wanted to vote a particular way, or because she’s a Christian. She was ditched because she believes certain people should be treated as lesser citizens and have fewer rights–and, most significantly, she actively campaigns for it. It’s not just a private opinion on her part: it’s an action that has tangible and detrimental effects on others.
Freedom of speech, as bigots often forget, does not mean freedom from consequence or criticism: it simply means the government won’t arrest you for criticising their policies. You can say what you like, but your peers will hear you and judge you and act accordingly. Court wasn’t ditched simply because she ‘believes differently’; she was ditched because she supports intolerance, and we cannot and should not tolerate that.