When friends of mine in the gay community told me that the postal survey on same-sex marriage would unleash hatred and bile I hoped they were wrong. I wish they had been. I underestimated how vicious it would be and I never for a moment thought how much it would impact me.
I don’t want to claim to be the victim for even a second. I see people in the “no camp” doing that and I can’t help wonder how they dare complain they are being maligned given what they are voting for. I don’t wish to belittle the real pain and suffering this campaign has caused to the LGBTQI community and their friends and family.
It’s been a gruelling week listening to all the hatred levelled at people, it’s been hideous to think that there are people who think not every Australian deserves the same civil rights.
And for me it’s been sobering to realise I’m intolerant.
Intolerant is not a title I would have held with great pride before this week, it’s a designation I’ve tried to avoid. I pride myself on trying to listen to both sides of a story, I’ve always been open to learning from people in situations different from my own. And while I may not always agree with other people’s opinions or behaviours (sometimes loudly) I’ve tried to tolerate them.
But last week a conversation turned to the same-sex marriage survey and my whole stance on tolerance was shaken. There was someone amongst us who was more passionate than rational – only his passion was for hating on yes voters for hating on him. I know. It makes little sense for someone to complain about ostensibly not having the right to say no just as they deny equal rights to others.
"Last week, I would have told you I was a tolerant person. That's not the truth anymore."
He never gave a reason for his no vote and I can only guess that’s because there is no reason that can stand up to any debate. Let’s just say I reacted to him with intolerance. Anger, not violence. Raised voices not calm conversation. It was in my own home and I felt profoundly sad, I felt hurt by his lack of reason and compassion. I felt the anger of every person whose future he was deciding on. It was hard to speak calmly against a wall of fear and hatred. I asked him to stop speaking about it and change the subject. I felt like a coward.
I wasn’t very tolerant and that sat as heavily with me as my sadness and my cowardice. Until I came upon the “paradox of tolerance”, defined by philosopher Karl Popper in 1945.
“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them,” Popper said.