‘Tolerance’: The Virtue that Serves Itself


A little over a week ago, hockey player Sean Avery set off a tempest in a teapot by releasing a video spot in support of same-sex marriage (SSM). This was initially surprising to some observers, who only know Avery as one of the NHL’s biggest loudmouths and on-ice miscreants — though perhaps not to others, who also recall Avery as a clothes horse and New York City metrosexual who spent one summer interning at Vogue.

But the story didn’t end with “tough-guy jock takes sensitive stand.” The media seized upon a subsequent Tweet by Canadian sports agent Todd Reynolds to the effect that Avery’s advocacy was “sad” because same-sex marriage was “wrong.” The next news cycle was filled with headlines about how the agent had “attacked” Avery for his “courageous” stance.

Then Reynolds’s father fed reporters the red meat they were starving for, asserting that marriage was meant to be “man-woman, not man-man or man-horse.” As Rick Santorum learned years ago, as a point of argument it’s logically defensible to mention same-sex unions in the same breath as other, more absurd kinds of couplings. But as a sound bite, it’s a strategic loser that can’t fail to give sympathy and motivation to the other side. (No one means to say that homosexuality is the moral equivalent of bestiality; no one thinks that same-sex marriage is as practically unworkable as inter-special marriage. The point is that once you untether yourself from the natural, traditional definition of marriage, you have forfeited any grounds for denying legally recognized unions to those with far stranger amorous inclinations than homosexuals. But there never was propagandist who went broke overestimating the public’s ability to grasp nuance.)

The tale took another turn when Canadian sportscaster Damian Goddard sent out his own personal Tweet expressing support for Todd Reynolds. He was summarily fired.

Last Thursday, on ESPN.com, columnist Johnnette Howard joined the media chorus praising Avery for his courage. Never mind that, by all evidence, it took very little: Among Avery’s circle of New York fashionistas and journalists, support for SSM is ingrained and utterly unremarkable. Sports leagues have long been run by savvy urban lawyers, not lunkheaded jocks — witness the $100,000 fine levied upon basketball superstar Kobe Bryant for using a word that once meant a small piece of firewood but now signifies a derogatory term for homosexuals — so the league has been tacitly supportive, and the odds are against Avery’s receiving a towel-whipping the next time he steps in the Rangers’ locker room. And far from suffering, Avery has prospered: Prior to taking his “stance,” he had been one of the most reviled persons in professional sports, who was once forced by the NHL to attend therapy after making a crass comment about another player’s girlfriend; but now he was a hero, a visionary, a model of tolerance.

Never mind, too, that the only people to have actually suffered in the whole affair were those who opposed Avery: Father and son Reynolds have been castigated, particularly in secularist Canada where speech codes are vigorously enforced, and Goddard has lost his livelihood. No, for taking a risk-free position that has made him a media darling and rehabilitated what had been a rotten public persona, Sean Avery has somehow emerged as a portrait in courage.


But in her column, Howard took things a step further. Not only did Avery’s endorsing of SSM pave the way for other athletes to do likewise, she wrote, but the “swift attacks” against him (if you’re keeping score at home, by two obscure Canadian sports agents who Tweeted support for traditional marriage, and one broadcaster who Tweeted support for them) have created a backlash of righteous anger that resulted in an outburst of support for SSM exponentially greater than it would have been if the attackers had just kept their yaps shut.

It’s hard to gauge who did more to advance the cause of legalizing gay marriage in the past week — New York Rangers forward Sean Avery (the first pro athlete to publicly support New Yorkers for Marriage Equality), or the father-and-son sports agent team of Don and Todd Reynolds, whose swift attacks of Avery’s stance caused a remarkable thing to happen. The Reynolds’ reactions caused thousands of other people to step forward and out themselves as gay rights supporters, too, in a louder, longer show of support for Avery on Twitter and Facebook, radio and TV, in blogs and newspapers and sports fan message boards than Avery’s appearance in a video advertisement for the marriage equality campaign might have generated on its own.

We don’t know how much hard evidence Howard has for the existence of those “thousands,” nor is it clear, if they exist, that what really motivated them was not Avery’s support for SSM but the so-called attacks against it. It could just be wishful thinking. (It’s a nice narrative, isn’t it? Thousands of gentle, fairness-loving folk finally stirred out of their complacency by the ugly witness of unsupportable bigotry…) Or it could be the standard reverse-psychology tactic of thanking your opponent for opposing you: claiming either that his arguments actually prove your own position, or that his protestations only give you more publicity.

But at the root of Howard’s column is the self-congratulation common to heterosexuals who make a show of supporting “gay rights.” Far from being a position that requires sacrifice, whether of some external kind (hard moral stances can make one unpopular) or some mental or personal discipline (hard moral stances can require unpleasant lifestyle changes), it is utterly self-serving. This for two reasons.

First, because it fills the one who asserts it with the easy warmth of moral and intellectual superiority (“I thank thee, Lord, that I am not an intolerant bigot like those Bible-thumpers”); accordingly, it also makes him acceptable to his peers, since most every institution — from the local PTA to workplaces everywhere to all the elite institutions of government, education, entertainment, and the media — has somehow been compelled to require, whether by choice or out of fear, unequivocal support for the sexual tastes of three percent of the population.

A second reason the pro-homosexuality stance is self-serving is that it redounds to the sexual license of the person who holds it. Is gay sex inherently infecund? Well that’s just fine, because I contracept. Are homosexual men notoriously promiscuous? I, a divorced and lascivious straight guy, courageously support their right to be so. Are homosexual liaisons disordered, unhealthy, unnatural? Man, don’t even ask what I’m into.

Since to the modern moral liberal there is no greater sin — no other sin — than hypocrisy, supporting the gay agenda carries a kind of sexual plenary indulgence. As long as I don’t speak ill of others’ sexual proclivities, I can’t be faulted for my own.


Gay activists and their fellow travelers in the media, such as Howard, are playing tricky word games here. Officially, they’re relativists and free-speech enthusiasts; no idea can be better than another, and all should be accepted. Howard concedes that the Reynoldses are “entitled to their opinions” (she doesn’t address the injustice done to Goddard, apparently unable to process it), and that “reasonable people can debate personal politics or choices people make.” At the same time, however, they know their ideas are right, and they have no compunction about quashing those who are wrong — or, as Howard put it, drawing a “line in the sand when they see another human being discriminated against.” It is a line that cuts off basic rights of speech and religion and severs civilization from its natural, foundational traditions.

These people likewise know that in order to advance the movement they must simultaneously insist that it is popular — accepted by the great majority of people as part of the inevitable train of civil rights — and that it is bold, requiring a crusader’s courage in the face of benighted but powerful forces. As institutions further enforce the gay agenda and individuals are feted for supporting it, while its opponents are increasingly penalized and shunned, one wonders how much longer they’ll be allowed to get away with such rhetorical trumpery.

Todd M. Aglialoro


Todd M. Aglialoro is the acquisitions editor for Catholic Answers.

  • Jim

    Great article.

    “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” G. K. Chesterton

  • Darragh

    I just opened up my New Yorker to see a cartoon (I belive it’s on p. 41) that lumps a Catholic priest in with a KKK member. It accompanies an article on Clarence Darrow. Even his features are rendered in a simian way–reminiscent of nativist cartoons of the 1800s. So much for the Stalinist “tolerance” of the Left.

  • Lynne

    Well, Darragh, that’s ironic, given that the KKK was anti-Catholic. I’m guess that fact escaped the author of the cartoon…