As a trained classicist, I have a fairly deep idea for the idea that to know a word, you must know it’s etymology. One of the saddest things I did as a teacher was watching sixteen and seventeen year old students struggle to express themselves exactly because they didn’t have the vocabulary, and the vocabulary they did have was shallow.
For example, the word tolerance comes from the Latin word that means “to endure” in the sense of to carry a heavy burden or to suffer something you don’t like, but cannot change. In that sense, good old fashioned American tolerance used to mean “we’re not going to kill you because you are a pornographer, but we’d really like you not to expose our children to smut.” or “We’re generally willing to let you live in sin with your partner, but you shouldn’t get mad when we say nasty things about you behind your back.”
Tolerance is what you do when you go home for thanksgiving and hear your crazy uncle complain about “the spear chuckers.” You tolerate his boorish, racist behavior, restraining yourself from punching him in the face, but retain your right to think poorly of him and maybe to not show up next year if he gets invited. You live and let live, generally, but you don’t have to be happy about it.
Modern America has turned tolerate into a Janus-word (one of those words that have two distinct opposite meanings, such as cleave, which either means “to separate” or “to join”). We can have the traditional meaning of tolerance, in the “this school has a zero-tolerance policy about cheating,” where if a kid cheats, he gets expelled because, you know, the school won’t endure it.
But then we also have the newspeak version of “tolerance,” favored by progressives. Tolerance isn’t just my willing to live side by side with you, I must rejoice in your choices and lifestyle. My willingness to let you live in your homosexual relationship without abuse isn’t enough to be tolerance anymore; rather, I must rejoice in the fact that you are doing something I think imperils your soul and is bad for you. My (traditional) tolerance is insufficient, the New Tolerance demands not only acceptance, but approval.
I understand why conservatives lost the battle over issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples. I understand why conservatives now are losing the battle over gender identity. I understand exactly why a homosexual couple would want to get married (I’m married, it’s great. I gain social prestige, legal and financial benefits, as well as being able to show a permanent gesture of love to my favorite gal). I’m not sure that the side in favor of homosexual marriage understands why conservatives were loathe to completely redefine a building block of every civilization on the planet, why that might be scary, or frustrating, or even possibly the wrong thing to do.
America has always had a place carved out for homosexuals, the same way it did for non-married cohabitants. America has never been as puritanical about sex as some would have you believe. But it always approached it from the point of (traditional) tolerance. Hawthorne feels sorry for Hester Prynne; he wants society to not punish her for her failings; but he doesn’t celebrate the fact that she was an adulterous. He’s not happy about it, but he thinks she should be unpunished for it. Plenty of non-married couples lived together in the 1800’s, as did many, many homosexuals.
Go look at the list of Americans convicted of sodomy. None of them are run of the mill homosexuals. Every one of them is a serial killer, serial rapist, or a zoophile. I repeat, none of them were just two men who loved each other. Sodomy laws in America have not been used against homosexuals (there were cases of men thrown out of the army for sodomy, but not civilians put in prison).
Look, I’m not going to say that homosexuals haven’t been harassed, name-called, assaulted, or sent to “pray-away-the-gay” camps during America’s history; but the same could be said for people who play Dungeons and Dragons. Kids are going to be mean to outsiders, whether that’s two guys kissing or the kid wearing a cape pretending to case magic missiles.
But overwhelmingly, once you’re out of high school, America is willing to tolerate your lifestyle, as long as you don’t rub it in everyone’s face. That’s the definition of tolerance.
Others have written better on the subject of the intolerance of the left, and so I’ll leave you with this thought. After winning the right for anyone to marry whomever they want (polygamy is not far behind), the first thing progressives did was try to throw people in prison for not baking cakes and taking wedding photographs. That’s not embracing tolerance, that’s being assholes.