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Social tolerance is the new politically correct term

The victors of the 2008 election have yet to take office, the losers yet to fade (if only from second-tier cable TV interview shows). Now prepare for 2012 and the new buzz word.

It is "social tolerance."

Social tolerance is what 52 percent of California voters, 57 percent of Arizona voters and 62 percent of Florida voters failed to show when approving a ban on same-sex marriage in their states.

"Social tolerance" is a term I first saw in an editorial in the Seattle Times commenting on the tolerance proven by election of an African-American as president while bemoaning the lack of "social tolerance" on the marriage issues.

But the editorial took some comfort by noting that "other measures of social intolerance failed."

The socially intolerant measures cited were defeats of a Colorado measure defining "person" from the moment of conception and a measure in South Dakota rejecting a ban on abortion except for victims of rape or incest.

Washington state voters passed by 59 percent a measure to authorize physician-assisted suicide, joining Oregon as one of two states in the nation with such a statute and perhaps leading to a bi-state tourist slogan "People Are Dying to Come to the Pacific Northwest."

Terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives will no longer be outside the law, the Times noted, which is "a gain for tolerance."

The big surprise in the election, however, was that many people who supported Barack Obama also voted in favor of a same-sex marriage ban in California, Arizona and Florida, said Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco. "They did not see this as a conservative/liberal issue," Archbishop Niederauer said. "They saw it as a natural law issue."

California's Proposition 8 would overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that granted same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry.

Supporters, in addition to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, included California's Catholic bishops, some evangelical churches and others.

Social tolerance evidently is not extended to churches and their members.

More than 40 people demonstrated in front of a Latter-day Saint church in Seattle. They lined the sidewalk, chanting slogans such as "Tax the church!" and holding signs saying "Shame on the church" and "All marriages are equal."

Meanwhile, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City noted the affinity between the Latter-day Saint and Catholic faiths on the sacredness of traditional marriage and the importance of family.

"While acknowledging that this position is not universally held in our society today, our churches are committed to proclaiming the truth, and we cherish our ability to participate in the democratic process," he said.

In addition to being socially intolerant in their protests, opponents are wrong on the facts.

This has nothing to do with the tax-exempt status of churches. While they are prohibited from engaging in partisan political process by supporting candidates, they are free to speak out on issues.

All that churches in California, Arizona and Florida did was to bring their belief to the public square. It was not a situation of churches lobbying legislative bodies or pressuring politicians but successfully making a case that appealed to more than 50 percent of the electorate.

This is little different than a state construction industry association campaigning for a ballot issue to increase highway spending.

Pleas for social tolerance would be more convincing if not coming from people acting badly.

Social tolerance may be a proper term for excusing one who uses the wrong fork at dinner but not for excusing affronts to human life and dignity.

Stephen Kent, retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle, can be contacted at:

The Catholic Voice

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