Loose on Religion, Uptight on Homosexuals

ThePostSD.com alerts us to another reason we might have trouble convincing some young people to stick around on the prairie. The Daily Beast spent Martin Luther King Day calculating how tolerant the states of the Union are and found South Dakota ranks 39th. The analysis considers hate crime laws and reported incidents, discrimination complaints, public support for and laws covering same-sex marriage, and religious tolerance.

It is worth noting that if you seek more tolerant climes, you don't have to travel far. Minnesota turns up the nice and ranks 7th; Iowa ranks 12th. Drive a little farther, and you'll find the most tolerant state of the Union, Wisconsin. Liberal bastions New York and Massachusetts are only 17th and 18th, respectively.

If heading east isn't your thing, Montana is your next best bet, ranking 21st for tolerance (which is funny, because Mr. Kurtz doesn't always sound that tolerant when Mr. Ellis is around). Otherwise, in our region, you'd better keep your diversity to yourself: North Dakota ranks 42nd, Nebraska ranks 47th (dragged down by intolerance for wearing any colors other than Cornhusker Red), and Wyoming ranks 50th.

Now I'll confess to my own disagreement with this analysis, at least on religious tolerance. This analysis quantifies religious tolerance as the percentage of folks who believe "many religions lead to eternal life." South Dakota actually ranks quite high on this metric: 79%... though I have to wonder if a fair number of South Dakotans hear the question and think, "Many religions? Oh, ya, sure, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, even those Catholics can get to heaven." I'd be interested in recalibrating that measurement by asking folks their opinion about electing an atheist or a Muslim governor or blessing their children's marrying folks of different faiths or no faith.

Besides, "eternal life" seems a rather particular theological point on which to grade the broader question of religious tolerance. There's enough old-school absolutism in my atheist soul ("soul"?) to accept that tolerance means holding your nose and letting me go about my business, not taking a deep whiff and exclaiming, "Boy, you smell sweet!" I'm satisfied with the tolerance of a good Christian who holds to fundamental doctrinal differences (like the debatable proposition that Jesus is the only path to eternal life, or that there is such a thing) but still supports a civil society where Muslims, Buddhists, and even infidels like me have the same rights to participate in economic, political and social life.

But religious tolerance isn't where South Dakota needs work. Our gay rights score stinks. It's one thing to think your neighbors are on a fast track away from eternal life. It's another to extend that belief into interference with the exercise of homosexual citizens' rights to live and love as they see fit and obtain legal and financial protection (e.g., spousal insurance benefits) for their loved ones. Just as my chosen non-religion can withstand folks down the road exercising their rights with regular Hallelujahs, my heterosexual marriage should be able to withstand some of my male neighbors' choosing to be cohabiting soulmates and even their getting legal status and insurance as a married couple. That's the practical tolerance South Dakota needs to work on.