Is a person’s belief that marriage is between a man and a woman intolerant and/or bigoted? Progressive pundits all across the country clamored to label Chick-fil-A owner, Dan Cathy, and the entire enterprise and all like-minded individuals as “intolerant” and “bigoted” for believing in the traditional and biblical definition of “family” and by inference the traditional definition of “marriage” as between a man and a woman. This article will undertake to objectively examine this statement of a belief in a traditional definition of family and marriage. I will also analyze the oppositional clamor by progressives and their efforts to stigmatize anyone believing in traditional marriage as “intolerant” and “bigoted.”
Let’s begin by examining some basic dictionary definitions of the labels being bandied about. Both definitions of “intolerant” and “bigot” are taken (below) from Merriam-Webster.com, as follows:
Definition of INTOLERANT
1 : unable or unwilling to endure
2 a : unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters
b : unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted
. . . .
Definition of BIGOT
: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
Clearly the first definition of “intolerant” does not apply to the situation, so let’s move on to the second, which has two definitions that appear to be on point (there is also a third, which was irrelevant to the discussion and thus omitted as indicated by the ellipses above).
Is “Marriage” a Form of Freedom of Expression?
Definition 2(a) of the word “intolerant” applies to one who is “unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression, especially in religious matters.” Arguably, marriage is a freedom of expression, if “marriage” is defined in such a way as to include legal, contractual union between members of the same sex. So long as the definition of marriage is devoid of any reference or requirement of the union being between members of the opposite sex, then anyone who is “unwilling to grant this freedom of expression” could be construed as being intolerant.
On the other hand, where marriage is defined and given its classical construct as between members of the opposite sex, then the unwillingness to grant freedom to members of the same sex to be married is not intolerant, it is simply impossible and a bastardization of the definition of the word “marriage.” This is not the same as an unwillingness to grant same-sex couples equal freedom of expression of their loving, enduring, partnership bond with each other or other legal and contractual rights emanating from that union. That “expression” (same-sex marriage) simply does not fit into the classical definition of marriage. People who defend the classical definition of marriage are thus by not being intolerant of any form of equal freedom of expression, they are being intolerant of the re-defining of the term “marriage.”
So, to be clear, by definition, one who holds an opinion that marriage is strictly defined as between members of the opposite sex arguably fits the definition of being “intolerant” of same-sex marriage. However, note what it is that they are being intolerant of – same-sex marriage, the co-opting of the term “marriage” to apply to a same-sex union. Thus broadly labeling Mr. Cathy or others with like opinions on the definition of marriage as “haters,” “intolerant,” or “bigots,” is an enormous generalization. Extrapolating from an opinion that marriage should be defined in a heterosexual sense to arrive at the conclusion that such person is wholly “intolerant” in every regard for all rights and freedoms of expression of same-sex couples is a fallacy of grand magnitude, technically known as a “hasty generalization.” Should one so hastily conclude that someone is broadly “intolerant” or a “bigot” without examining all of that person’s beliefs and rationale for same? Does a belief in a particular classical and religious definition of “marriage” warrant the faulty generalization that a person with that belief is in all other broader and general regards is “intolerant” and a “bigot”?
Merriam-Webster recognizes both definitions of marriage, as do a number of states in recent years. But this is where the real dispute lies – definitionally in the construct of the term “marriage.”
Is Expressing an Opinion on the Definition of “Marriage” a Form of Freedom of Expression?
What of the progressive-thinkers in the media, government and society-at-large who utter hateful screeds using epithets such as “intolerant,” “bigot,” “homophobe” and “hate-monger,” among others, at those who have the temerity to express their opinions on the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman? Again referring back to the “freedom of expression” definition of “intolerant” that we just examined, let’s reexamine it in this new context.
Those who try to quell and quiet another person from expressing his/her opinion on marriage, are by definition “unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression.” Add to this that many of those who would define “marriage” in the classical heterosexual sense, do so as an expression of their beliefs in “marriage” as a religious matter. Those who attack, chastise and vilify such a person, who is merely expressing their opinion on a religious matter, is thus, by definition, being “intolerant.”
Contrarily, Mr. Cathy, and others who express opinions on the definition of “marriage” may or may not challenge the freedom of same-sex couples to otherwise express themselves as a loving couple, to otherwise share love, affection, an enduring bond and partnership. Such precipitous generalizations implicit in the emotionally charged invectives, such as “intolerant” and “bigot,” do not serve to further any meaningful discussion, but only reflect grievous intolerance by the very person who purports others to be intolerant. Name calling is itself an act of intolerance. The calling of names seeks to diminish, minimize, quiet and restrain the object of such scorn from freely expressing their opinions on a subject, by demonizing, vilifying, shaming, and subjecting him/her to public outrage.
“Marriage” as a Social, Political, or Professional Right
Similarly the second definition of “intolerant” (definition 2(b)), which defines one as intolerant who is “unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights,” comes down to the rights to be granted. Is marriage a right? Here again – this depends on the definitional construct of “marriage.” One who believes in a more traditional definition of marriage believes that right inures only to heterosexual couples, by definition and thus there is no “right” to a marriage for a gay couple. Where secular and religious definitions of these “rights” conflict, such as where same-sex couples have a legal “right” to be unified in marriage, then it seems that there is at least an argument that there is a semblance of intolerance in continuing in an unwillingness to grant those rights. However, in a country where those “rights” are still largely undecided and where “marriage” is legally in many localities and by many mainstream religions defined as between a man and a woman, there is also an argument that the unwillingness to grant rights to same-sex marriage simply does not fit the definition of “marriage.”
Who is the True Bigot?
Refer back to the definition of “bigot” here, and in particular focusing on the latter part of the definition, which adds clarity that one “especially” fits the definition of bigot “who treats members of a group [ ] with hatred and intolerance.”
With that in mind, (1) is a person who defends a traditional definition of “marriage” hateful and intolerant of members of a group, or (2) is the one who hatefully spews epithets and attempts to demonize that person hateful and intolerant of members of a group?
The answer to the first question should be – it depends. Again, this is where extrapolating from a single opinion on a single subject (the definition of “marriage” as between a man and a woman) that the holder of such an opinion is hateful and intolerant of the entire “group” of homosexuals and all of their beliefs and choices. This is of course a false generalization. While it may be true that some individuals who oppose same-sex marriage are also homophobic or even hateful toward the entirety of the homosexual “group” and all of their beliefs and choices, this generalization and the attribution of such beliefs cannot logically apply to every person who believes in a traditional definition of marriage. In fact, there are some homosexuals who also believe in a more traditional definition of marriage, but believe in equal legal rights and access to the benefits of marriage, regardless of what the same-sex union is called. I would suspect that a homosexual with such beliefs is probably not hateful and intolerant in his/her treatment of the entire group of homosexuals and all of their beliefs and choices. This merely illustrates that fallacy of the hasty generalization.
On the other hand, the answer to the second question is demonstrably – yes. The person who labels and calls anyone with an opinion supporting a more traditional definition of marriage a “bigot,” “intolerant,” a “hate monger,” a “homophobe,” or some other epithet is in the same instance grouping all people with such a belief and vilifying that group with hateful and intolerant vituperations.
The true underlying issue here lies in how “marriage” is defined, which is an issue that is respectfully up for debate and frankly in my opinion more of a local or 10th Amendment issue than a national/Federal issue. Regardless, of on what stage the debate occurs, name calling, demonization of entire groups of people as bigots or intolerant because their opinion on the definition of marriage differs is far more bigoted and intolerant than the initial opinion being expressed. A further dialogue with the original declarant of the opinion might ferret out whether the opinion arises out of a bigoted hate for a particular group or more probably in most cases, merely out of traditional religious (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.) and family values. A discussion of the real issue – the definition of “marriage” does not need to be laced with emotionally charged name-calling and intolerance on either side of the debate. Such tactics are merely another red-herring form of logical fallacy, known as an ad hominem argument – attacking the person instead of addressing the subject of the argument. This type of fallacious argument and name calling reflects purely lazy intellectualism.