By Jason Menard
There are certain powder keg topics that are guaranteed to blow up no matter how small the spark is – and the only thing that gets destroyed in these explosions is our understanding of the word tolerance.
Issues surrounding real and perceived racism, misogyny, and homophobia are the unholy trinity of irrational response. And those who are quickest off the mark to point out intolerance are often guilty of the same behaviour they claim to abhor. Case in point: the response to boxer and politician Manny Pacquiao’s comment saying he opposed U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent expression of support for gay marriage.
Since then, he’s been accused of being homophobic; an on-line petition went up demanding that Nike drop the boxer from its roster of spokespeople; and he was prevented from filming a segment in an L.A. mall due to concerns about what his appearance may bring.
To many, Manny wears the brand of being a homophobe. There are those who, with no knowledge of the person, hate him. Others will brand him just another ignorant athlete from the Tim Hardaway School of Tolerance. But here’s what should have happened – and it’s the use of a phrase that not enough people have in their lexicon:
“I don’t agree, but I respect your opinion.”
And a vital component of this is knowing what that opinion actually is. In fact, the Nike petition has been pulled because, due to the reactionary environment in which it was created, no one bothered to check to see what it was that Manny actually said.
Yes, the article included that infamous passage from Leviticus that anti-gay advocates claim as the foundation of their argument. But that was a creative insertion by the author; not a direct quote from Pacquiao.
All Pacquiao said was that, due to his religious beliefs, he didn’t support gay marriage. That’s all. He went on to say that he had gay friends and relatives and is supportive, in general, of gay rights. That support does not extend to his Roman Catholic definition of marriage – that’s all.
So tell me again where the homophobia is?
I don’t agree with Manny’s stance on marriage, but I choose to respect where he’s coming from. If people are going to use human rights as a foundation for their argument, they’re going to have to understand that it works both ways. One of those rights is to believe in whatever religion you want – and that’s all that Pacquiao is guilty of.
I’m a firm believe in the separation of Church and State. The Church should have no influence on the development, implementation, and interpretation of the laws of the land. Gay marriage is a civil issue and Pacquiao’s religious beliefs have no bearing on it.
But I also believe that the State should stay out of the Church. If a religious group does not want to recognize gay marriage, that’s its choice. And just as the State should not have to bend to the will of any religion, nor should a religion be forced to amend its beliefs to a current government.
We can’t pick and choose tolerance. We can be respectful of one another’s beliefs without it being an approval. And should be able to respectfully discuss those beliefs without attacking the people who hold them. Unfortunately, in today’s instant-reaction environment, some will run straight to the extreme, falsely branding people as racist, sexist, or misogynist; some will reflexively call for protests or demand that someone be fired.
Personally, I don’t want to live in a society where holding a so-called controversial opinion is grounds for my livelihood being taken away from me. And there are other – more productive — ways to go about expressing your displeasure.
Instead of bombast, volume, and melodrama, what about starting with respectful discussion and debate? I am not a creationist, but if you hold that belief, more power to you. We can discuss the matter using positions based on science and faith, respectively. And then we can go on our merry way.
If you want to teach creationism in a privately funded religious school, OK. And I’m all in favour of teaching all religions as part of an “understanding faith” component in the public system. Same goes for religious views on sexuality – I’ll engage you in a discussion on the role of gay unions in secular marriage all day long. And if your religion wants to exclude these people from its services, that’s your choice. That said, the conversation ends if your position is built upon a foundation of hate, as opposed to religious doctrine.
When it comes to Canada, we have our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In its essence, it ensures all of our equality and rights, regardless of who we are, which deity we choose (or choose not) to worship, and whom we choose to love. It’s a document rooted in the concept of tolerance. And that tolerance extends to all Canadians.
It’s a lesson that those who have taken it upon themselves to be the standard-bearers in the fight against intolerance need to remember. You can’t demand tolerance for your beliefs if you’re not willing to extend the same courtesy to those ideas that oppose your own. It’s a lesson that’s especially important on days like today, the International Day Against Homophobia.
Tolerance does not equal agreement. Someone who does not believe that their religion approves of gay marriage is not necessarily a homophobe. And a lynch-mob mentality doesn’t encourage growth.
Education, discussion, and respect are the keys to unlocking a world of understanding and compassion. Intolerance, even in the name of a good cause, is the fastest way to keep those doors shut.