It's often like the force of gravity in American politics and it has been gaining power for about a quarter of a century. We're talking about the "pew gap," that mysterious X-factor that keeps showing up in surveys about the most controversial political and social issues in this land of ours. Simply stated, the more often a person sits in a pew inside a religious sanctuary, the more likely they are to vote for morally conservative candidates (in either party, but these days this tends to show up as a GOP bias).
So does his mean (a) that all moral conservatives are Republicans? The answer, of course, is "no," especially when you start hanging out with Latinos, African-Americans and people in blue-collar jobs and/or labor unions.
Does this mean that (b) all Republicans are moral conservatives? The answer, of course, is "no," especially when you are dealing with country-club members and people far outside the Bible Belt.
Does this mean that (c) cultural liberals are godless heathens who never go to church? Of course not, but they are a minority of those found in pews and they tend to be active in smaller, doctrinally progressive flocks of all religious brands.
So this brings us to that New York Timesstory about that judge in Utah -- all together now, UTAH! -- who has become an instant hero among supporters of gay-rights and same-sex unions.
This story provides lots of relevant information, all focusing on how his decision has shocked Republicans. Let's look at a slice or two of the text:
DENVER -- For a judge who would go on to make same-sex marriage legal in Utah, a deep-red state where streets in the capital are numbered by their distance from the Mormon temple, Robert J. Shelby arrived on the bench with enthusiastic praise from Republican leaders.
He had been a combat engineer in the Persian Gulf conflict and was, according to state voter records, a registered Republican. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a seven-term Utah Republican, recommended him for a federal judgeship, calling him an experienced lawyer “with an unwavering commitment to the law.” Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party Republican, said that Mr. Shelby was “pre-eminently qualified” and predicted he would be an outstanding judge.
Now, less than two years since he joined the bench, the same-sex marriage case has transformed Judge Shelby into a hero for hundreds of newlywed gay couples and an object of derision for many social conservatives who supported Utah’s 2004 ban on such unions.
OK, so remember point (b) mentioned above?
What is the logical information that readers almost certainly need to know to understand this legal puzzle?
It is an unlikely cacophony created by a man who quietly ascended through Utah’s legal ranks, mostly avoiding media attention, law review articles and other totems of success in the legal profession.
Born in Fort Atkinson, Wis., Judge Shelby, 43, moved to Utah for college and now lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and their two children. As a young man, he worked for Snappy Car Rental and was a night manager at a Maceys grocery store in Logan, Utah.
OK, so he is a Republican from the upper-Midwest, from deep blue America. By the way, he moved to Utah to attend what college? That could be crucial. Where did he do his law degree?
But we are still waiting to see if anyone asked That Nasty Question.
Former colleagues said they did not know his religious background. The judge did not respond to emails and a phone call requesting an interview.
So he has spent his entire legal/political career in Utah -- all together now, UTAH! -- and his colleagues do not know his religious background? That's amazing.
In other words, at this stage, the Times team is still two questions away from being able to answer the "pew gap" question.
In other words, stay tuned. What makes this judge tick, when it comes to moral and social issues? Readers get few clues in this particular story, but at least a reporter appears to have asked a question about, you know, religion.