The press has certainly had a field day speculating on whether or not the NJ Supreme Court decision will boost values votes for the GOP. For the most part, the reporting and analysis have been incredibly slim. Start with the assumption that “values voters” are dispirited this year. Quote Bush on the stump reiterating his belief that marriage is “a union between a man and a woman.” Run some fear-mongering blurbs from Dobson, Tony Perkins, Matt Daniels and the lot. Get some over-exposed wonk like Larry Sabato to spout off the top of his head. Find some operatives like Charles Black and Chuck Schumer to tow the party line. Phone the whole thing in and hit the martini bar.

Only ABC’s Gary Langer has presented a genuine analysis of the alleged gay marriage fallout of ’06. His conclusion: gay marriage will not be a factor in ’06 and was not one in ’04, not nationwide, not in Ohio and not to the benefit of Bush. Of white, evangelical voters (which have remained constant at 20% of likely voters) Langer writes, “since 11 gay-marriage initiatives didn’t boost their turnout in 2006 [sic: he means 2004], it’s hard to see why eight would this year. But in an election year dominated thus far by the dark shadow of the war in Iraq, gay marriage meets the basic qualification for political prognostication: It’s something new to talk about.”

I’m more of an agnostic on “values voters;” I’m not sure they exist but don’t think their divinity, or lack thereof, can be demonstrated. That said, perception matters, and the danger of a “gay marriage energizes GOP values voters” line is that it licenses more gay-baiting from the GOP and encourages already skittish Democrats to marginalize gay issues. More than anything the “values vote” is a brand, one that right-wing leaders will promote and inflate at every opportunity and one that the mainstream press seems willing to buy at any price. But onto the races…

Virginia and Tennessee are the two most closely watched states. Webb v. Allen and Ford v. Corker share the ballot with state defense of marriage amendments. I talked to Randy Tarkington, the campaign manager of No on Amendment 1, today from their headquarters in Nashville. They’ve done a brave job of rallying progressive clergy and others to defeat Tennessee’s anti-gay marriage amendment, but with little support from state leaders, it’s an uphill battle and all signs point to an Amendment 1 victory. As for any fallout from NJ’s decision, Tarkington says that not a single local reporter has called him about the case and that the issue “will not have a lot of punch here; it’s just not being talked about.”

Of course, it helps that Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford does the God-talk (see Bob Moser’s A New Model Ford) and includes opposition to gay marriage (as well as votes for the Patriot Act and against amnesty for immigrants) in his resume. According to Tarkington, since the NJ decision, Ford has publicly reiterated his support for Amendment 1 and highlighted his two votes in Congress for the Federal Marriage Amendment. But with control of the Senate in the balance, I say hold your nose and vote Ford.

Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to fellow Beyond Marriage collaborator Nancy Polikoff, who’s come up with a witty, fair and subversive solution to the NJ situation. Instead of folding gays into marriage or creating a separate civil union category for them, why not get rid of marriage entirely and have civil unions for all — hetero and homo. The NJ legislature could do it. See her op-ed in the Philly Inquirer.