Strong disagreements are inevitable in a free society; what's important is trying to conduct those conflicts in a civil manner. Unfortunately, we haven't been accomplishing that very successfully with regard to the controversy over homosexuality and its place in American society.

The conventional wisdom - in the media and in academia - is that what distinguishes liberals, as opposed to conservatives, is their tolerance of differing viewpoints. And yet, when it comes to debating homosexuality, today's liberals seem to be increasingly intolerant of views that differ from their own.This is not to deny that conservatives can make their share of foolish decisions, motivated by their disapproval of homosexuality. A recent example: The commissioners of Williamson County, Texas, voted 3-2 to reject a special tax break for Apple Computer because of the company's policy of granting health benefits to homosexual employees' partners.

Conservatives have a right to argue against such policies, but they ought to accept the fact that others have a right to disagree. Since Apple wasn't trying to impose its views - for example, by insisting that Williamson County had to enact a similar policy on health benefits for its own gay employees' partners - the commissioners should have adopted a live-and-let-live approach (which, by a 3-2 vote, they eventually agreed to do).

Liberal commentators had a field day over this incident. Nothing pumps their adrenaline faster than an opportunity to condemn what is arguably an instance of conservative intolerance - in this case, regarding policy toward homosexuality. And yet these same commentators never seem to notice how intolerant liberals can be regarding the same issue.

First of all, there is the assumption that those who oppose the liberal stance on homosexuality cannot possibly be motivated by honest moral convictions, informed scientific judgments, relevant sociological findings, or reasoned constitutional analysis. No, they are nothing but malicious "bigots" who are driven by irrational "prejudice." Is this what liberals mean when they preach to the rest of us about tolerating differing viewpoints?

Furthermore, the very language liberals use is designed to denigrate those who disagree with them. For example, there is the constant use of the term "homo-phobia." The strategy is obvious: Phobias being morbid and irrational fears, a person's negative attitude toward homosexuality must be caused by a psychological problem (often combined with the notion that the problem is fear of his own alleged homosexual tendencies!). Is that the liberals' idea of debating? Sounds more like character assassination to me.

Nor do liberals stop at the use of pejorative language as a way to cut off debate. Whenever they are in a position to do so, they adopt methods that are at least as oppressive and intolerant as those initially supported by the commissioners of Williamson County.

Consider the Boy Scouts: As a private organization, it ought to have the right to establish its own qualifications for members and leaders. Yet because of the Boy Scouts' rules, particularly those barring homosexuals as leaders, the organization has been the target of a hostile campaign across the nation, one that is led by homosexual activists, but gains most of its clout from the support provided by liberal sympathizers.

For example, Thomas Payzant, a homosexual who, before being appointed to a high Education Department post in the Clinton administration, was the superintendent of schools in San Diego, used that position to get a rule barring the Boy Scouts from taking part in official school programs. There have been similar attempted bans in other cities.

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Along the same lines, there have also been numerous cases of local United Ways being pressured to drop their support of Boy Scout chapters.

And then there is the potential use of the leverage supplied by the gay rights laws and ordinances advocated by liberals. In Rhode Island, for example, legislative supporters of a gay rights bill introduced in the most recent session of the General Assembly - which eventually failed to pass - killed an amendment that would have exempted private youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts from having to provide equal employment opportunities to homosexuals.

Liberals were very voluble about Apple Computer having the right to establish its own personnel policies, but their silence has been deafening when it comes to the Boy Scouts having a similar right. It seems that today's liberals view tolerance as a one-way street.

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service

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