What Happened To Tolerance?

WHAT HAPPENED TO TOLERANCE? We seem to have changed the definition of the word. Tolerance used to mean extending courtesy and respect to those who hold a different viewpoint to you. It meant acknowledging that different views exist, and not demanding that everyone conform to your view. But in the current same-sex marriage debate, the word is being used to mean the exact opposite.  In this new paradigm, if I hold a point of view that differs from others, I am told that I am intolerant. And I am told this in the most hostile, disrespectful manner.

Yesterday, I watched a video clip of an ugly scene at Sydney University. Some students who were members of the Catholic Society had set up a stall on the University grounds to hand out flyers promoting their reasons for voting No. They offered free kebabs to people and had signs stating, “It’s OK to say No”. It was the first time that the No Campaign had organised an active presence on campus, whereas Marriage Equality stalls had been present almost every day throughout the semester. Very soon an angry mob gathered and began hurling vile insults at the No Campaigners. Food and drink was thrown over them. Their signs and leaflets were taken and destroyed. Some of the stall holders were even pushed, hit and kicked. Violent, abusive threats were screamed at them, “You’re f***ing bigots! I’m going to stomp your f***ing heads in!” “Go and w**k at home with your f***ing Jesus pictures!” The abuse continued for five hours!

A similar incident occurred last week. The Australian Christian Lobby group had planned to hold a meeting in a local church to discuss concerns about the Safe Schools program. The LGBTQI community found out about the meeting and turned up in advance, mistakenly believing that the meeting was going to discuss the same-sex marriage issue. They blockaded the church car park, not allowing anyone to enter, and hurled vile, abusive comments at the church members. Sadly, the church had to cancel its meeting.

In the last couple of weeks there have been several instances of employers sacking employees who voice support for the No campaign. Many high-profile sports people and teams have openly advocated for the Yes Campaign, but the few sports people who have posted messages of support for the No Campaign on social media have been bombarded with vitriolic abuse from the LGBTQI community and have been lambasted by the media.

I am increasingly shocked and horrified at what I currently see happening in our society. This is not tolerance that is being demanded – it is UNIFORMITY. Tolerance is only possible when different viewpoints exist and are catered for. But apparently, an alternate viewpoint is no longer allowed. Everyone must conform to the accepted party line, and anyone who does not will be treated with contempt, abuse and even violence.

This kind of aggressive insistence on uniformity, accompanied by violent intolerance towards those who do not acquiesce, is a characteristic of fascist regimes and dictatorships, not democracies like Australia. What has happened to our nation? Diversity and freedom of speech are foundational tenets of our society, but these values seem to have been cast aside in this current debate. The Yes Campaigners are doing themselves no favours at the moment. Their ugly, school-yard bullying tactics are puerile and counter-productive. Their hypocrisy in demanding “tolerance” while simultaneously treating others with the utmost intolerance is simply astounding. Whatever your view on the same-sex marriage issue, surely we can agree that this kind of infantile, pugilistic behaviour has no place in a sophisticated society such as ours.

As a post-script, does the emergency legislation that was rushed through parliament last week provide equal protection for people on both sides of the argument? This legislation makes it illegal to subject people to “vilification, intimidation or threats because of views they hold on the [marriage] survey or in relation to their religious conviction”. Will the office of the Attorney-General, George Brandis, utilise this legislation to protect No Campaigners who are being vilified and abused? Or does it only exist for the protection of LGBTQI advocates?