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Not Tolerating Homophobia Does Not Make You Intolerant

Dr. Ben Carson was penciled in to deliver the commencement speech at the Hopkins School of Medicine last month. After going on Fox News and equating pedophilia and bestiality with homosexuality, students at the university drafted a petition to have him removed as speaker. Was it intolerant to not tolerate Carson's intolerance?
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Dr Ben Carson

Should we tolerate Dr Ben Carson's intolerant views?

Dr. Ben Carson, the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins was penciled in to deliver the commencement speech at the Hopkins School of Medicine last month. After going on Fox News and equating pedophilia and bestiality with homosexuality, students at the university drafted a petition to have him removed as commencement speaker. Carson apologized for his comments and voluntarily withdrew, writing in an email to the dean of the Johns Hopkins medical school, Paul Rothman, saying:

“Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interests of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year.”

The email was largely graceful, but Carson also added he felt discriminated against for his beliefs:

“Someday in the future, it is my hope and prayer that the emphasis on political correctness will decrease and we will start emphasizing rational discussion of differences so we can actually resolve problems and chart a course that is inclusive of everyone,”

While conservatives have rallied around Carson, blasting the university for criticizing the esteemed doctor and accusing them of discrimination, Carson also received some unlikely support in Michael Kinsley, the (mostly) liberal editor of The New Republic.

"My analysis is that, at a crucial moment, the dean failed to defend a real core value of the university: tolerance," wrote Kinsley.

"Carson didn’t murder millions of people. All he did was say on television that he opposes same-sex marriage—an idea that even its biggest current supporters had never even heard of a couple of decades ago," he went on. "Does that automatically make you a homophobe and cast you into the outer darkness? It shouldn’t. But in some American subcultures—Hollywood, academia, Democratic politics—it apparently does. You may favor raising taxes on the rich, increasing support for the poor, nurturing the planet, and repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, but if you don’t support gay marriage, you’re out of the club."

While people who don't support gay marriage might not believe that they are intolerant, those of us who do beg to differ. To believe that gays do not have the right to marry means you do not accept them as being equal to heterosexuals. It means that you ignore the science that says homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality and subscribe to Bronze age mythology that states killing your wife for adultery is God's law. You are free to believe in whatever you want to in America, but that doesn't mean your views should be considered legitimate or tolerant just because you think they are.

Viewed in that light, Carson and Kinsley's argument can be boiled down to the following logic: It is intolerant to not tolerate someone else's intolerance. And that simply doesn't wash.

Carson has done huge amounts of good in his field (he was the first doctor to successfully separate co-joined twins) and donates large sums of money towards educating children. But his views on homosexuality are wrong and discriminatory. The fight for Gay Rights is as important as the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, and reverting to religious scripture as some sort of moral reasoning against it is akin to arguing that blacks are not equal to whites because of the 'Curse of Ham' (the Biblical story used by whites to justify segregation  in America and apartheid in South Africa).

If someone stated today that society should be more tolerant of their biblical based racist views, they would never be allowed near a television or students at a prestigious university like Johns Hopkins.

Nobel prize winning DNA pioneer Dr James Watson, who alongside Francis Crick discovered the double helix, stated that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. As a result of his comments, Watson has been shunned from public life and disowned by much of the scientific community (it's also worth remembering that ironically, Watson's own DNA revealed he was 16% African).

Most people reacted with horror at Watson's statement, and rightly so. Homophobia is unfortunately still fairly mainstream in America, so coming out against gay marriage is still viewed as an acceptable position. And yes, being anti gay marriage is homophobic, just as believing blacks shouldn't be entitled to the same rights as whites is racist.

No one is saying that Carson does not have the right to have, or express his views. In that regard, Carson is the beneficiary of a great deal of tolerance. But Carson's views directly oppose the legal rights of homosexuals, and America's constitution exists to protect those rights. When African Americans refused to tolerate intolerance, they paved the way for a more inclusive nation. And as society continues to shun those opposed to gay rights, they too pave the way for a country that respects the rights of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

As  Karl Popper once stated, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society... then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them... We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”