A favorable ruling illuminates family values rhetoric

Last week, the most recent salvos in the American culture war were fired from both sides of the divide on the issue of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

The impetus for the current dust-up was provided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which decided 4 to 3 last Wednesday that gay couples were entitled to the same legal rights and financial protections as heterosexual couples.

The court ordered the N.J. legislature 180 days to write a bill giving same-sex couples those rights and benefits, but did allow the lawmakers the wiggle room of not designating their yet-to-be-formed legalese as “marriage” per se.

In its ruling, the court said, “Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state constitution.”

All seven judges strenuously agreed that the court’s role interpreting the N.J. Constitution was to ensure that the rights and benefits of heterosexual marriage were, in all its legal particulars, extended to committed same-sex partners.

In the majority opinion, Justice Barry T. Albin wrote, “If the age-old definition of marriage is to be discarded, such change must come from the crucible of the democratic process.”

Speaking for the dissenters, who wanted the court to go further with its decision and use the term “marriage” and its attendant symbolism, Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz penned, “We must not underestimate the power of language.”

Especially in a country where the people speak (mostly) the same tongue, but rarely mean the same thing, mused The Eye.

Susie Prueter, president of the Alliance For Full Acceptance, was pleased with the N.J. ruling, “Whatever happens from here, this is a very positive ruling: more protections, stability, peace of mind and dignity for families — that doesn’t sound like the crumbling of society to me.”

President George W. Bush didn’t waste any time hopping into the fray, as Republican candidates in the mid-term election are on the ropes all over the country.

A day after the N.J. decision, Bush addressed a luncheon of wealthy partisans at the Iowa State Fairgrounds to raise funds for a GOP congressional candidate. “Yesterday in New Jersey, we had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage,” said Bush.

Predictably, Bush drew applause when he said that marriage was “a union between a man and a woman … I believe it’s a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families and it must be defended.”

I realize Bush is merely trying to divert voters’ attention from Iraq and the GOP’s biblically-proportioned mishandling of the Mark Foley nonsense by using the tried-and-true wedge issue of gay marriage to motivate his core constituency of “values voters.”

But’s it’s hard to believe that the president actually gives a red rat’s ass about gay marriage because, although he says it will undermine the family structure, he never says how this would happen. The man doesn’t buy what he’s selling.

But his political hypocrisy on the issue has agitated the simmering well of prejudice that exists in this country and in doing so he is attempting to dump America’s current problems at the feet of the gay community for the crass objective of winning elections.

In the event things don’t work out for gay marriage (and I believe they will), proponents can thank those thoughtful straight people who have previously blazed a trail through divorce court for getting all the precedents set.

As for those “values voters,” they need to start paying attention.

They might be voting for conservative Republican candidates who say they’re against gay marriage or abortion or free trade, but these citizens are electing people who are giving tax breaks to the rich and shipping our troops off to an unfamiliar desert to get their brains blown out. In other words, these citizens ain’t getting value for their vote.

So, gay marriage, family values, compassionate conservatism, whatever names or labels candidates want to use to buttonhole an issue, serve only to take away the voters’ impetus to think critically and makes them dumber.

Or is it stupider?