Colgate Against Diversity? Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

Last week’s Maroon-News included a debate concerning the three referenda preventing or repealing state recognition of gay marriage that voters approved in Arizona, Florida and California. In my circle of socially liberal friends, Olivia Offner’s apology for prohibition of gay marriage provoked near universal ire, even extending to claims that her piece should not have been published, or that she should apologize for her hateful opinions and homophobic bigotry. And although I believe the state has a moral imperative to extend the protections of marriage to gay and lesbian couples, and thus share some of this ire, I also believe that to define Offner as an intolerant bigot, and therefore to justify her censure, is unfair, and that The Maroon-News did not err in including her opinion.

It is undeniable that hateful speech, such as the recent notorious graffiti, must be severely restricted. However, the pertinent question is whether Offner’s apology is hateful so as to be inappropriate. And the answer is no. She does not advocate violence against homosexuals, and she does not insinuate in any way that homosexuals are somehow less than human, therefore depriving them of rights and freedoms accorded to every human being. This second point may be contentious, but I propose that to deny the morality of a person’s natural inclinations, something we all do every day, is not at all the same thing as to deny a person’s humanity. Moreover, Offner does not, contrary to what many have argued to me, equate homosexuality with bestiality or incest. Instead, she argues that if love is the only criterion for state sanctioned marriage, and if some polygamous, incestuous and bestial unions are based on love, then some such marriages meet the criterion for state sanction. Thus to declare that Offner equates homosexuality with more universally reviled sexual predilections demonstrates an inability to understand basic logic.

Furthermore, it is impossible to deny the value of diversity of opinion. Frightening examples of those who have denied this value abound, including the Bolshevik Party circa 1938. And it is especially important to be conscious of other opinions when said opinions are extremely widespread. This is exactly the case here; in fact, I have heard arguments paralleling Offner’s from almost every opponent of gay marriage with whom I have discussed the issue. Therefore, to censure Offner is to condemn Colgate to an insular, dogmatic world view unaware of its opposition, which in turn hampers productive discussion. This is similar to many Christian universities that hold that homosexuality is a choice and refuse to discuss the issue.

Accordingly, in the name of diversity of reasonable opinion, I was glad to see Offner’s opinion alongside a (perhaps distastefully incendiary) argument for gay marriage. And therefore, although I disagree with Offner, I must defend her apology for Proposition 8 and other such referenda.