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In defense of hypocrisy

State senator preaches sanctity of marriage

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During Monday's Senate debate over a resolution to put a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage before Georgia voters, Sen. Steve Thompson issued a warning to his colleagues.

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"You're trying to out-moralize each other over here and some of you are going to break your necks," the Powder Springs Democrat said. "Because that white horse is tall, and that fall has a kick."

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In other words, don't cast stones if you live in a glass house.

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The debate over the anti-gay marriage amendment, which the Senate approved and sent to the House on Monday, has the state Capitol boiling over with long-simmering rumors of extramarital affairs by the very people now holding themselves up as defenders of "the sanctity" of marriage. And at least one prominent state senator who supported the anti-gay amendment has been accused in court of an affair.

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Sen. Joey Brush, R-Martinez, is alleged to have had extramarital affairs during the last decade with two women — one of whom, under oath in a 1997 Columbia County divorce case, identified Brush as a sexual partner.

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"That had nothing to do with the vote yesterday," he said. "The vote yesterday was about same-sex marriages. That's all it was about, and that's what the people of my district want to do, vote on it."

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Asked if he'd find it hypocritical to legislate morality if he didn't abide by his own wedding vows, Brush — the Senate Education Committee chairman — retorted, "Well, I find you pretty hypocritical." He then trotted away.

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While he didn't care to discuss his own marital issues, Brush was outspoken before Monday's vote in his support for the amendment.

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"Our society is slipping on a downward slope of morality," he wrote Feb. 10 to a constituent in Grovetown. "Some would say that because traditionally marriages are failing at a greater rate that the concept is not worth saving. I believe the obvious effect of those failures on our children only makes it more obvious that traditional marriage is more important for our children. ... "

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Both of Brush's alleged affairs were with married mothers.

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He also voted Monday against two amendments that would have added a ban on adultery to the resolution. Those amendments failed by one vote.

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"They said that the constitutional amendment was to preserve the sanctity of marriage," Sen. Valencia Seay, D-College Park, who offered the amendments, said after the vote. "And if that be the case, we realize that the majority of divorces are because of adultery, so I felt that if they were sincere, and it wasn't just political ... then they would agree to the amendment[s]."

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It's unclear whether pointing to the alleged hypocrisy of lawmakers will have any effect on passage of the resolution that would put the proposed amendment on the ballot. Marriage already is defined as strictly between a man and a woman in Georgia. But Republican lawmakers, who voted unanimously for the resolution in the Senate, are eager to get the amendment on the November ballot because they view it as a way to ensure that religious conservatives turn out heavily during the General Election.

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Monday's 40-14 vote was a little more than the two-thirds majority needed for amendment resolutions in the Senate. If the resolution gets to the House floor before the close of the legislative session in March, the vote is likely to be similarly close.

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In his organization's uphill fight against the amendment, Allen Thornell, executive director of the gay rights group Georgia Equality, pointed to lawmakers' hypocrisy as particularly hard-to-take.

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"It's very difficult, from my perspective, to hear people with questionable morals, based on their past behavior, tell other people how to live their lives," Thornell said. "They want to have their cake and eat it, too."

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While the resolution placed Democratic legislators in swing districts on the spot, some moderate Republicans appear dismayed that their party has allowed the gay marriage issue to become so central to the lawmaking session.

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"I'd rather personally see us down here deal with the issues that are truly affecting people's lives," Rep. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said. "We've been down here, what, three weeks? This is probably the worst session I've been at so far, because we've done nothing of consequence."

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Public discussion of the amendment has at times been highly personal. Southern Voice, Atlanta's gay weekly, reported Feb. 6 that the former wife of Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens, R-Canton, said his claims that he was protecting the sanctity of marriage were "a bunch of baloney." Stephens is a co-sponsor of the resolution.

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Brush, who represents suburban Augusta, moved out of the family home just after his 2002 election to a fourth term, and now is legally separated from his wife of 26 years. They have four children together.

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According to two sources close to Brush, who spoke to Creative Loafing on condition of anonymity, the senator has had affairs dating back to at least 1997, but has consistently denied the allegations.

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In an April 23, 1998, Columbia County hearing over the divorce of another couple, the wife in that case took the stand to answer claims of infidelity brought by her then-husband.

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Attorney Douglas J. Flanagan asked the mother of two: "Who else have you had sexual relations with in the last three years, besides your husband and [a second man]?"

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Answer: "You want names?"

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"Yes, ma'am," Flanagan said.

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She balked at the question before the judge advised her that she had to answer.

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"My question was, in the last three years, how many other people, other than [a second man] and your husband have you had sexual relations with?" Flanagan asked.

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Answer: "Five or six."

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Question: "Could you give me the names of the five or six individuals you've had sexual relations with in the last three years?"

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Answer: "Joey Brush."

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A source close to Brush confirmed that the "Joey Brush" described in that trial was the state senator. Sen. Joey Brush is the only person with that name listed in Georgia phone records accessed through the Internet.

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A second woman contacted Brush's wife last year and allegedly confessed to an affair. When contacted by CL, the Appling woman and mother of three at first denied she had an affair with the senator. Asked how she would answer the question of whether she had had an affair with Brush if she were on the stand, the woman declined to answer. "Well, I'm not on the stand," she said, and hung up.

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In a separate tape recording, a woman who appeared to have the same voice described details of the alleged affair.

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CL has chosen not to publish the names of the women with whom Brush is alleged to have had relationships or of Brush's wife, because they aren't public servants who have held themselves out as defenders of the institution of marriage.

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Brush joins a long list of politicians — including former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr — who publicly preached about sexual morality until they faced marriage issues of their own.

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kevin.griffis@creativeloafing.com