Most Americans reject the inane idea that all relationships are created equal.
In our personal lives as well as our political positions, we understand and embrace the undeniable, commonsense truth that some intimate associations are more significant, more valuable than others.
That's why there's so little enthusiasm for last week's odd, ill-considered decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
On the one hand, the court leaves it to the legislature to determine whether gay couples should receive the same marital designation as traditional male-female partnerships.
"We cannot find that a right to same-sex marriage is so deeply rooted in the tradition, history and conscience of the people of this state that it ranks as a fundamental right," said Justice Barry T. Albin for the 4-3 court majority.
On the other hand, he and his colleagues ordered the legislature to grant "every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples" to "committed same-sex couples. … We cannot find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges."
In other words, the imperial judiciary graciously allows the people and their elected representatives to reserve the term "marriage" for opposite-sex couples, but the legislature is not permitted to confer any practical benefits — tuition assistance, tax breaks or survivor payments — exclusively to those partnerships that qualify as marriages.
The decision therefore represents a unique frontal assault on the privileged position of marriage in society: The state isn't permitted to treat matrimony differently from other couplings that might be called "civil unions," "domestic partnerships" or "longtime pals."
The judges won't allow New Jersey to do what governments have always done: to establish a hierarchy among human relationships, with special recognition and privileges for those connections that the people deem most useful and consequential.
Admittedly, the old idea of ranking relationships based on their significance and utility goes against the grain of a radically egalitarian age, but does it make sense to say that Britney Spears' notorious first marriage, which lasted all of 54 hours, impacted the world as much as her second marriage, which has already lasted more than two years, and produced two children?
However much one may despise Britney's current hapless husband, Kevin Federline, their relationship counts as more significant than her previous fleeting alliance, and, for the sake of the two children, society has an undeniable interest in keeping the parents together to take responsibility for their offspring.