Collie Creating
Codex Firestarter

Tolerance FAQ, take 2

by Collie Collier
August 2004 Firestarter column

My May Firestarter, Why not Same-sex Marriage? prompted some wonderfully fascinating discussion.

I've been told by a friend this is the hardest he's ever thought about issues like this. He thanked me for encouraging that, even as he half-laughingly, half-irritatedly added he just hated when I asked the hard questions!

I also received more "arguments" as to why people didn't like the idea of gay marriage. With thanks to those who kept me informed, I continue -- and conclude, as I think this is enough on this subject -- the pro-tolerance FAQ.


  1. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not an inherited trait

  2. America is ruled by majority, so whatever the majority says is wrong shouldn't be allowed

  3. Homosexual couples can't be a "nuclear family," and kids need that

  4. Homosexuality is an attack on society

  5. Homosexuals are destroying the institution of marriage

  6. What's next? Bestiality/ polyamory/ incest/ whatever?

  7. Same-sex marriage brings no benefit to society; not allowing same-sex marriage does.

I'm trying to keep my answers really short, as I was berated for labeling the May Firestarter's "collection of essays" a FAQ.

I've consequently discovered it's far too easy to be either thoughtful and sensitive but long-winded... or concise, but also potentially dismissive or flippant sounding.

I don't know if it works, but I'm going to try my best for concise without rudeness. I also give some closing comments at the end. Enjoy!


1. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not an inherited trait

The "cause" of homosexuality (like the "cause" of that peculiar aberration, monogamy) is a hotly debated point I'm not going to cover here. I'll just point out lifestyle choice is what the US is all about. As long as only consenting adults are involved, what you do in the privacy of your own home is your own business.

In the US I can dye my hair vivid colors, be of whatever religion I choose, have multiple piercings or tattoos, wear strange and unusual clothes, be a vegetarian -- all these things are lifestyle choices, not inherited traits.

So homosexuality is a lifestyle choice... so what? Are we going to pick and choose now how people must live their lives? Isn't that what the Taliban did? Do we really want to imitate them?

2. American is ruled by majority, so whatever the majority says is wrong shouldn't be allowed

This is a frighteningly un-American statement.

The original European settlers came here to live how they wished. Throughout the last two centuries in the US, legal precedent has overwhelmingly been to protect the rights of the minority, not to inflict majority rule.

We can thank majority rule for the election of Hitler, the murder of unknown numbers of Mayan Indians in Guatemala, the Rwandan genocide of the minority Tutsis by the Hutu majority, the "ethnic cleansing" against Kosovo's Serbs... the list is, unfortunately, almost endless.

The tyranny of the majority is comfortingly safe only when you're part of the majority. For those of you smugly noting you are, remember there was a time when the majority believed in the moral rightness of slavery, the divine right of kings, the abandonment of unwanted children, and the second-class status of women.

Don't assume you'll always be in the majority -- and don't do to someone else what you wouldn't want done to you.

3. Homosexual couples can't be a "nuclear family," and kids need that

If by "nuclear family" you mean a breeding couple and offspring, then unfortunately history puts the lie to this assertion. Polygamy and related tribes were the standard forms of family long before this "one female-one male-living all alone" thing came about. Extended families (polygamous and otherwise) still exist today, so they must be doing something right for the kids, if they've not all died out yet.

Today, studies show those extended, sometimes polygamous families were the right answer -- kids need loving, involved adults in their lives. Who doesn't matter: blood parents, adopted parents (of either gender), a collection of close friends, grandparents, someone else entirely. A loving home is more important than, say, a house with two married people in it who hate each other but are staying together "for the kids."

A final consideration: who will tell those loving, caring adults their healthy, happy kids are somehow inadequate -- simply because the kids don't bear their genetics? Not me. I wouldn't be that mean-spirited to either those adults or their kids. They're doing fine, and more power to them.

4. Homosexuality is an attack on society

This one really amuses me. I get mental images of gays sitting around basements with scribbled slogans and maps on the cement walls, plotting madly about how to most effectively tear down society.

This argument misses one important point -- homosexuals have to live here. Why would anyone destroy the house they're living in? Furthermore, homosexuals aren't calling for the end of society -- they're trying to join it, by participating in and supporting its rituals.

For those who answer my question above by stating homosexuals ignore the facts and are dangerously illogical, I am reminded of Jesus' words in John 8:7, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

5. Homosexuals are destroying the institution of marriage

The social ritual of marriage in the United States today is highly unstable, as the 50+ % divorce rate shows. I don't think it's fair to blame that instability on late-comers to the institution of marriage. That's like seeing a tire is getting low on your car, letting a friend drive it, and then blaming him for the tire now being completely flat.

Let's face it: marriage is not being destroyed; it is changing. This is expected and normal, since a society's institutions change as it changes. We have all of human history to show us how common and predictable this constant cultural change is.

Unfortunately we also have all of human history to show us how short-sighted and panicky some people can be when faced with unwanted change.

You cannot stop cultural change, though, not even if you threaten violence in order to get your way. That being the case, why can't we let kindness and tolerance rule our reactions, instead of fear or hate?

6. What's next? Bestiality/ polyamory/ incest/ whatever?

In the United States we have a social standard called "consenting adults." Basically, if two or more people are legal adults and make an agreement with each other which harms no one else, it is no one else's business what they do. That pretty much covers all the "what's next?" suggestions -- animals cannot give consent, nor can children.

To be quite frank, polyamory and/or extended families would be a return to more common human forms of family, and especially valuable if the standard of consenting adults were applied. Personally, I'd love to have more than one adult available to hand children off to, or to help out with paying the bills.

Since extended blood-related families are no longer the norm, why not let polyamory, or nonsexual extended friendship-families, fill the bill? More money, time, and care for children can only help them in the long run -- and also help the adults trying to raise them, especially in a society which devalues homemakers.

7. Same-sex marriage brings no benefit to society. Not allowing same-sex marriage does.

First, if we're only allowing our culture to contain things which benefit the society and ourselves, there's a long list of things we should throw out immediately for harming us, long before we worry about same-sex marriage.

Rampant corporate greed, zealotry trumping reason or facts, mindless media consumerism, and governmental indifference to their people are all good places to start.

Second, cultural change comes about when the needs of the people are not met through current societal conventions. That automatically makes cultural change a benefit to society -- it answers the real-life needs of the people.

The current version of marriage does not answer people's social needs for family, as the appalling divorce rate shows. Therefore marriage must change with the times or lose relevance as a social convention, and eventually be forgotten.

We can see this happening in the Scandinavian countries already. I'm not sure why some people consider this a bad thing, as long as the needs of the people are being met.

Third, abuse of selected minorities is not healthy for either the minority or the people involved in the abusing. As the old saying goes, slavery is bad for the master as well as for the slave.

To refuse societal recognition to certain minorities simply because we don't like them, and they can't stop us, is extraordinarily unhealthy for us all -- and horribly un-American.

Alternatively, choosing to treat all people with kindness and respect helps us all become better, healthier individuals, and benefits society as a whole.

Closing comments

Reactionary desires to return to some mythical "Golden Age," when "things were simpler," should be recognized for what they are.

For some it's wanting to have their "right" to power, to being "society's privileged," remain unquestioned. For others, it's a longing for a lost fable of childhood "innocence," of constant maternal love and care, with no responsibilities or difficult decisions to make.

If that's how you truly feel, that's fine -- there are professionals who can help you in coping with this, or who will take care of you. But realize this is what you want; don't hide from it. Don't think fear gives you the right to decide how others should live, or that everyone feels like you do.

As I noted above, change is inevitable, but how we react to it is not. We've tried fear, intolerance, and hatred, and it was unpleasant, messy, and useless in stemming the unceasing tide of cultural change. That being the case, why don't we try kindness and tolerance this time?

Reader Comments

25.05.04: Jason's comments

You're a very well-written individual and it was a pleasure to see some thought put into approaching what is a very complex and volatile situation.

For me the issue has been taken off the intellectual level and put directly on the emotional one: I am good friends with a number of gay couples, and I am tired of seeing them treated as second-class citizens just because they are the same gender as their partner.

I'm tired of seeing them derided, reviled and deprived of the same rights and opportunities that others have based on something as arbitrary as gender. I am tired of individuals who pretend to be tolerant and understanding saying "Love who you want, you just can't get married." I'm tired of seeing their love made out to be inferior or somehow invalid.

This trend is hurtful to my friends and at this point I feel it's also harmful to our society to perpetuate that behavior any longer.

But in the old days, my... did I ever like to start fires in a similar manner, just for the intellectual challenge of the debate. I hope you stay in the game longer than I did.

08.01.04: Marc's comments

(and my replies)

I just read your latest FireStarter (which somehow got received next Saturday (?)). Very interesting.

Er... I guess if it was received next Saturday, I'm just very avant gard? ;) -and thank you!

One of the things about the same-sex marriage debate that no one can explain is how same-sex marriages are supposed to destroy the institute of marriage.

Yup. Far as I can tell, it's just scapegoating hysteria trying to blame gays for straights screwing up the entire cultural ritual of marriage.

On another point, I read somewhere (and I wish I could remember where) that the 50% divorce rate is a crock. What they supposedly did was take the number of couples getting married in a particular year and compare it to the number of couples who got divorced. The number of marriages was twice the number of divorces.

However, since the number of couples who weren't married and could have been was much smaller than the number of couples who were and could have been divorced, these numbers are not comparable.

Oh, cool! If you ever stumble across that info again, do please save it for me? Hopefully it'll explain why the numbers are a crock, since I'm not sure I follow the reasoning above as conclusively disproving the statistic. ;)

08.10.04: Bill's comments

from Bill's blog at The Running Mummy

I took a look at Collie's page and I think it is in our spirit here in that it tries to get past the platitudes and tease them appart a little. If you are into the emotional aspects of this question rather than the political ones I have set out above, it's worth a look. If you are dead set against gay marriage, hers is a good site to run your points of view up against. I mean, if you feel that the Bible is a stumbling block she at least addresses the question rather than waves it in front of you. Hope you continue to bring some of your clearish thinking to the runninmum here.

08.12.04: Lou's comments

I mentioned this to you, and I thought I'd scribble down an email like I should have in the first place.

Thanks! I hope you don't mind, but I've re-arranged your responses a bit, so I can address each 'chunk' together. ;)

I hope you weren't "berated" for making things too long... that sounds rather harsh.

*grin* Actually it was you who said you didn't feel I could legitimately call the first Firestarter on this issue a FAQ, because the answers were too long. While length of answer has never really bothered me in FAQs, you did seem irritated and frustrated at the time, so I concluded this must be a hot button for you.

And I am not sure I agree that conciseness infers dismissiveness and flippancy. You may wish to say "that I can be either" rather than the all-inclusive "you."

Hm. Admittedly, that's not been my experience, but you have a point -- I've not read all versions of "short answers as opposed to long" in all FAQs, so as to conclusively note this hypothesis can be regarded as a valid theorem. Okay, I'll change it! ;)

The Arguments, followed by The Answers:

1: Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not an inherited trait
Q: Baloney
A: This is a good clear answer. Concise and clear. The Taliban example at the end verges on pointy, but makes the point clearly.

2: America is ruled by majority, so whatever the majority says is wrong shouldn't be allowed
Q: Eek, scary.
A: This is not just a frighteningly un-American statement, it's just plain frightening. (Although, the committee on un-American activities was searching for exactly this... wait, wasn't Senator McCarthy determined to have gone too far?)

This is the answer where I didn't know all your examples:

  • "We can than majority rule for the election of Hitler... " -- I got this one.
  • "the murder of unknown number of Mayan Indians in Guatemala" -- huh?
  • "the Rwandan genocide of the minority Tutsis by the Hutu majority" -- huh?
  • "the 'ethnic cleansing' against Kosovo's Serbs" -- I knew this one too.

This list wasn't as powerful as the single, obviously known example given in the first, because I have no idea what some of these are. It didn't help you make your point for me, it only helped me think I'm not as educated as you. Were I in a less positive mood, I could think it was you trying to sound pretentious and smarter than me. I know you too well for that, but it's something to be careful of.

Hm. Maybe links would help, if I can find them. The problem I have is that it's easy to read over breakfast about millions massacred elsewhere, and think vaguely how sad that is as you reach for the sugar. I know it's easy -- I struggle with that myself.

However, in one of my anthropology classes I read an essay by a US white woman who was good friends with one of the minority Tutsis. Reading about her talking to her dear friend in Rwanda, while hearing gunfire and screaming in the background, was frightening. Reading how her friend had hidden her children safely away with friends but was staying in the house so the mob would think they'd killed everyone there instead of realizing the empty house signified hiding Tutsis elsewhere... was frightening.

Reading about the dear friend of the US woman gently insisting she was going to hang up now, so the US woman didn't have to listen to her Tutsi friend being massacred by the mob... moved me to tears.

The US woman never saw her friend again, although if I remember correctly she helped get the children safely out of the country.

I believe people truly care when it's
personal. Unfortunately I don't know how to make it personal without being rude or turning people off, the same as I feel when folks get personal with me -- I just know it's better to mention tragedies than to let them be quietly forgotten. As the old saying goes, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. I don't want any more massacres.

The second half of this, where you point out that the tyranny of the majority is safe only as long as you are in the majority is well done. I'm not sure it would bother some thoughtless people though. Do some of the people who are so horrified by this issue perhaps secretly believe in those things, or that they weren't so bad?

I understand your point, but I really don't know how to reach folks who really believe in their invulnerability due to mindless adherence to the status quo. Mostly that comment is there in the hopes of preventing anyone else from falling into that sort of mindless, bovine contentment.

3: Homosexual couples can't be a "nuclear family," and kids need that
Q: Baloney.
A: Nuclear family bullshit. I think your argument is good and clear. Their "argument" itself is weak and a throwback to a non-existent ideal.

Heh. Want to know why nuclear families aren't mentioned much in the scientific arena any more? Someone did a study to find out what was the true nuclear family -- the absolute base components from which 'family' could possibly spring. Here's a definition, so you know what I'm talking about:
    nuclear: constituting or like a nucleus => nucleus: a small group of indispensable persons or things => indispensable: not to be dispensed with; essential; absolutely necessary; vitally necessary
So the study showed the
real nuclear family isn't a male, a female, and an offspring -- the male is actually superfluous to the family, even though you need them for impregnation. The true nuclear family is just a female and offspring -- any male will do, but what you must have is just the female and offspring to start a family. ;)

So yes, I quite agree -- this argument is a throwback to a non-existent and disproven ideal.

The only weakness is the last paragraph -- there are people who would tell those kids and those parents that not having their genetics is a bad thing. I think they're nuts, too.

It was an attempt to make the issue personal, as I note above.

4: Homosexuality is an attack on society
Q: Huh? What planet are these people on? An attack on society? What does that mean? How? This makes them sound crazy, not the homosexuals, who merely want to be happy with each other, officially.
A: I don't understand the assertion that homosexuality is an attack on society. (How can it be, when all the gay men are always portrayed as neat, tidy, and fashionable? Kidding!) What, anyway, does that have to do with homosexuals marrying each other, anyway?

I think they're just fearful of change. OTOH, I've been told that belief marginalizes them and belittles their apparently legitimate concerns, so take it with a grain of salt. ;-j

Your argument here is pretty clear.

This is the argument that had the bible quote I didn't see the relevance to in it. After we discussed, it and I read it again, I can see the relevance. However, I don't think that someone arguing this point ever will.

The quote is about sin, not about ignoring facts and being dangerously illogical, and I didn't make the connection the first two, er, three times. Anyone arguing this way will be sure they aren't ignoring facts or being illogical, so they will never be able to make the connection, and see you as spouting randomly, and perhaps besmirching their beloved bible by twisting it to your horrid ends. Were you really trying to argue with that sort, it might be a weakness to include this.

Um, hold on. Let me reiterate the story, with my comments in brackets. The original is John 8:3-11, if you want to check it out.

Basically an adulteress (a sexual sinner in the eyes of their god, just as homosexuality is seen by some fundamentalists today) is captured by the scribes and Pharisees (the legal and religious leaders of that time) and brought to Jesus, with the intention of getting Jesus (a radical loud-mouth who preaches against absolutely literal interpretation of the laws) into legal trouble.

They point out that Moses commands adulterers be stoned (which is a messy, prolonged, and extremely painful way to die, I've been told) -- so what does Jesus think should be done with the woman? He won't answer at first, just seems to scribble something in the dust (which always made me wonder what that was -- an ancient spell/invocation/blessing/something else entirely?! ;).

When they press him he simply says, in effect, "If you're going to implement this law, do it
right -- the first stone has to be thrown by someone who is completely, absolutely law-abiding."

And... one by one, they quietly slip away.

In the end only the woman is left there, and Jesus asks her what she's still doing there -- is there no one to accuse her? She says (wonderingly, I suspect) that no, there's no one left. And he simply says, "All right, then you should go... and don't do wrong again, okay?"

This story isn't about sin, at least to me. This is about hypocrisy and self-righteousness within a status-quo-affirming legal code with no humanity left in it.

It's always easier to condemn those on the fringe of society (such as women, gays, and other disempowered people), especially when you can successfully hide your own sins by paying lip service to the status quo. This story says you are not right just because no one knows you've done wrong -- and if you condemn others for doing wrong as well, you are something worse as well -- you are a hypocrite.

That's why I mention the story in my argument -- it is from the very book being used to condemn same-sex marriage, and it has a far more life-affirming message, spoken by the actual
leader of their religion, than the sections quoted by those who fear same-sex marriage. Just as adultery could be seen by those who defend the status quo to be "an attack on society" for that time, because it meant a woman was pushing outside her permitted social gender role, so too can recognition of same-sex marriage be seen in the same way today.

Make more sense now, I hope? ;)

5: Homosexuals are destroying the institution of marriage
Q: How can anyone who desperately wants to be married destroy the institution?
A: Your argument here is good. I'm not sure the "institution" of marriage is a good thing, or how it got to be an institution. Does that mean that if you get married, you should be institutionalized?

*grin* You sound like Mae West: "Marriage is an institution. I'm not ready for an institution." My guess is marriage got woven into social expectations, then became economically profitable, and that's how it got institutionalized.

6: What's next? Bestiality/ polyamory/ incest/ whatever?
Q: What's next? Happiness, tolerance, consideration of others, and peace on earth? The horror, the horror! *sigh*
A: This is a good answer to this question. I think it's a stupid question, but that's not your fault.

7: Same-sex marriage brings no benefit to society; not allowing same-sex marriage does.
Q: Wow, more people on another planet. What benefit does not allowing same-sex marriages offer? What benefit do differing-sex marriages offer? The more I think about that, the more I wonder why people rush so blindly in to them.

I think they're taking at face value the assertion: "the sacred institution of marriage is the historical cornerstone of civilization" which I dissected in the other Tolerance FAQ Firestarter article. It would appear they consider "civilization" to mean the current status quo, and "sacred" marriage translates as one woman-one man marriage for them, so that the 'right' people are being privileged within the status quo.

A: I don't understand how they can make this assertion. Your answer seems to assume I understand what planet the speaker was on, and could be clearer.

Why is the divorce rate "appalling"? It's only appalling if marriage is good, isn't it?

I don't see the divorce rate as just a condemnation of outdated social rituals and gender roles. I see it as a litany of personal pain for all the poor folks caught in it. That little, unassuming statistic translates to a frightening number of hurt and wounded people (children as well as adults), and that's why I find it appalling.

It would be really nice if we could figure out a social ritual to recognize caring deeply about another, that didn't also carry hidden within it the implicit emotional disaster of divorce if things don't work out perfectly. Alternatively, why not a nice, kind ritual to dissolve outdated rituals?

What are you talking about in the Scandinavian countries? I'm not familiar with what you refer to there, and it seems critical to this paragraph.

I added the link. The article is written by religious marriage apologists, so of course has a strange conclusion, but it is worth reading to see how some people frame this issue in their minds.

Conclusion: Your conclusion stops being a well-argued FAQ and turns pointy. Is this what you wanted? It's not rudely pointy, it's just a serious jab after some otherwise balanced arguments.

*sigh* I always have this problem -- nice, calm reasoning to try showing another point of view... and then a flash of irritation at people who insist on not thinking past their rigid taboos. What can I say... I'm not a very good teacher, and I don't suffer fools gladly. At all. ;-p

08.17.04: Ron's comments

(and my replies)
Re: Same Sex Marriage "manifesto"


In the distant past (back when you were still on the uniblab site), I ran across your gun control paper, and mentioned how much I liked it. Well, you've done it again; your August Firestarter is a wonderful (and reasonable) argument on the issue. (It's also a bit less dismissive to the religiously inclined than is your original piece). With your permission, I'd like to link to it at my website, Horologium. We approach politics from a slightly different viewpoint, but we agree on this issue (in addition to our views on gun control). Is this acceptable to you?

aka "timekeeper"

(Ron wrote a thoughtful and practically glowing review for me on his web site, which is linked in above -- I was quite touched! Here's my reply to his initial email)

Oh, I remember you now! You wrote a lovely, thoughtful note to me about my gun "control" piece. If that's what you were searching for on the Codicology page, you can find it here:

Thank you so much for your equally kind note about my August Firestarter -- I really love getting feedback. I'm also thrilled I managed to write
short answers without sounding dismissive or flippant -- I really struggled with that. ;-p

I'd be delighted to have you link to my site, and if you'll allow, I'm going to put your comments into the Reader's Comments section of my site, with a link back to Personally, I far prefer sharing opinions with those who don't agree perfectly with me, since that offers more interesting chances to view another's perspective.

Again, thanks for your feedback -- I thrive on that! ;)

08.21.04: Kus' comments

(and my replies)

i've tried to understand you're site and i think you're argumentation is fine.

Kus has what I think is a sort of members-only community which covers international news, his netaudio music, photographs, and small computer games. It's written in German and is based, I believe, in Checkoslovakia.

Check out his web site, Starfrosch, which means "star frog." Also check out some of his netaudio releases here.

He was kind enough to link to my site in the category of "philosophy" on his community board, and we've had a babelfish-enhanced (on my part, since I speak no German) conversation via e-mail.

08.23.04: Myron's comments

(and my replies)

Same sex civil unions don't bother me.

Same sex civil unions blessed by a priest don't bother me. What does bother me is bigamy, polygamy, and polyamina, which will be claimed as a constitutional right by combinations including, a homosexual man, a bisexual man, a homosexual woman, and a bisexual woman, and larry, who likes small children and animals, and they all want to get married, and adopt and bring children into this newly sanctioned institution. Legal Marriage brings with it the opportunity to adopt children.

Hello, Myron;

Thank you for reading and responding to my Firestarter article! It's always encouraging to get feedback.

Unfortunately I'm not sure precisely what "polyamina" means, as that's a new word to me. Could I ask you to define it for me, please? Also, if I may ask, I'd be interested in the reasoning behind your stated dislike of polygamy?

Thank you again for reading and responding! ;)