In the long tradition of controversial blog titles, I submit the above for you consideration.
It seems an odd statement after all, Norman Tebbit is a man notorious for his “strident” position on homosexuality. Throughout the years he has done a number of things which leave him somewhat estranged from the gay community.
Tebbit supported Section 28, the law which made the discussion of homosexuality in schools illegal. He believes that no homosexual should ever be Home Secretary because “[t]he Home Office is responsible for laws affecting society – the adoption of children and the strengthening of the family. It is better not in the care of someone who doesn’t feel for those issues.” He has stalled legislation which would enable (not force) churches to conduct civil partnerships for gay men and women.
On the other hand, Ed Balls has passionately defended gay marriage after revealing that his deeply religious Uncle could never get married to his partner. Andy Burhnam insists that his commitment to equality leaves him no choice but to support legalising gay marriage. Diane Abbott has supported gay marriage since the 1980s. Even the disappointing Ed Miliband “understands and sympathises” with the idea, even if he’s too cowardly to support it without the backing of a focus group.
You may think it odd for me to label Tebbit the more tolerant of those discussed. It is not. It only seems off because the language of tolerance has become debased and approached the meaningless.
Toleration is an important concept and practice in any society. We all live our lives in different ways, under different philosphies drawn from different axioms. Most of us cluster around the median practices and beliefs of a society but most of us have some foibles which set us apart from the whole; a few of us are all foible. The practices of tolerance is the withholding of censure from those with which we fundamentally disagree, either in belief of practice.
Ed, Ed, Diane and Andy are not tolerant of homosexuality. They accept it in the same way in which they accept people with blue eyes, or black skin or a Geordie accent. Tebbit is a man who disapproves with a lot of aspects of, and I’ll use quotation makes, “homosexual lifestyles.” However in large part he tolerates them, in fact he admits some of his best staff have been gay.
Most people are far less tolerant than they think they are. Most of you probably think of yourselves as liberal people, you don’t feel any animosity towards gay people and gay adoption doesn’t bother you. You are happy with a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or not. You are proud liberals when it comes to immigration, because you believe in the equality of man.
Of course none of that makes you a tolerant person. These are just things you agree with. It is only things which we find deeply unpleasant that test our tolerance. For example, the burqa and niqab are vile pieces of misogyny and I would feel far more comfortable knowing no women were to ever wear them again. But since the wearing of these does me no harm, and where they are worn by choice, I must accept them if I value tolerance.
Toleration is the vital lubricant of a society, without it a move towards a tyranny of the majority is entirely possible. Fooling yourself into thinking you are tolerant is a dangerous game. Without an initial tolerance a little acceptance is impossible, and without acceptance far too many people will remain on the fringes of our society. Were it not for dinosaurs tolerating homosexuality in the past, we would not find ourselves in the situation now where all our most important politicians accept it.