A Critical Distinction
The difference between tolerance and recognition is a critical one for Christians to understand. Some people may remember that 10–15 years ago the idea of recognizing gay civil unions was seen by many Christians as a kind of acceptable compromise in the gay marriage debates, where, in other words, we would recognize a relationship between two gay men or two lesbian women. We would recognize that relationship and grant it some legal status.
What was interesting was that was not acceptable to the gay community. They wanted marriage. Well, why? There’s a sense in which if I were to say to a gay couple, Okay, you can have your civil union, but you cannot have marriage, what I’m doing is I’m tolerating them. What they hear me saying is this: I’m not going to send you to prison for behaving the way you do. In fact, I’m going to indulge you a little bit. I’m going to allow you a certain amount of legitimacy, but I’m still going to treat your relationship as second-rate or third-rate compared to a real marriage.
Now, that’s a matter of tolerance. In other words, tolerance is that I’ll allow you to live in society, but I’m not going to fully approve of you. Recognition involves full approval. So granting a gay couple gay marriage is not simply saying, I’m going to recognize that you can have a longstanding relationship. It’s actually saying, I’m going to recognize that your relationship is fully equal to that of a married man and a married woman. I’m not going to treat you like second-class citizens because of your relationship.
And that’s when I think a lot of Christians mistook the cultural mood. They thought that an acceptable halfway compromise would be acceptable. Actually, that was never going to be the case because the halfway compromise was only half of what people want in life. I don’t want to be tolerated for who I am. I want to be fully recognized for who I am.
So that’s the difference between tolerance and recognition, and it’s extremely important for understanding the way LGBTQ+ politics has and continues to play out.
Carl R. Trueman is the author of Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution.
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