Just What Is Tolerance?

26 Feb

The following is an excerpt from a recent column by Edward Morrissey, giving his perspective on what the word “tolerance” has come to mean – and what it should mean.  The entire column can be found at



Judging by the latest skirmishes in the battle over gay marriage, perhaps everyone could use a refresher course on the meaning of “tolerance.”

The locus of the debate has shifted to the wedding industry itself. Until recently, the industry didn’t need to concern itself over heterodox forms of the ceremony and celebration, but the passage of same-sex marriage laws (or judicial rulings imposing them) have put the focus on commercial enterprises such as bakers, florists, and photographers. Do these merchants have the right to refuse service in order to avoid participating in an event that might violate their religious beliefs?

In Colorado, at least, the answer is no.

A judge in Denver ruled in December that Masterpiece Cakeshop and its owner, Jack Phillips, had illegally discriminated against Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who wanted a wedding cake for their nuptials. Phillips, a Christian, refused to participate in the event, but he won’t have that option in the future. No damages were assessed in the case, but Judge Robert Spencer informed Phillips that he could not refuse service on the basis of his religious beliefs if it meant discriminating against gays. Phillips, for his part, says he’ll close his business before being forced to participate in a same-sex wedding.

Left unspoken is why anyone would want a baker for their wedding who didn’t want to participate — or a florist for that matter, or a photographer. Weddings are traumatic enough for all concerned without deliberately boosting the tension levels to a Spinal Tap-esque 11. Leaving the issue of religious belief aside for a moment, Phillips cannot possibly be the only baker in Denver capable of producing a wedding cake. Why not take Phillips at his word, tolerate his religious beliefs, and find a baker with more enthusiasm for the event? . . . .

Tolerance does not mean acceptance or participation. It means allowing people to make their own choices about what they choose to do, and to respect the ability of their fellow citizens to do the same as long as it does no injury to them. What this contretemps shows is that America is getting a lot more intolerant the more “tolerant” we become.

[End of excerpt]


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