Affleck and Lopez show at political awards gala. Ben's ''Spirit of Liberty'' prize is upstaged by talk of his relationship with J. Lo

By Gary Susman
Updated October 16, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Ben Affleck
Credit: Ben Affleck: Amy Graves-FWD/AP

Ben Affleck received a ”Spirit of Liberty” award from the liberal civil liberties group People for the American Way on Tuesday, and while he had harsh words for the Bush administration, his political activism may have been less noteworthy than the fact that he brought with him Jennifer Lopez, who is apparently still engaged to her ”Gigli” costar. Even Affleck noted the upstaging in his speech before the audience at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Accepting the honor for his work on behalf of voter registration and children’s rights, Affleck said, ”I accept [the award] in the hope that the absurd amount of publicity I received lately — which, as far as I can tell, is chiefly because I have a pretty fiancée — might be directed at something more significant.”

That’s how he was quoted in the New York Daily News. USA Today quoted the remark as ”pretty girlfriend,” sending Benniferologists scurrying to figure out whether the couple really are still engaged — despite the messy public cancellation of their lavish wedding plans — or have downshifted into something more casual, as suggested by their recent appearances, buying a truck in Georgia and attending a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game in Boston.

Director Kevin Smith, who introduced Affleck on the dais, indicated that the couple, who star in his upcoming ”Jersey Girl,” still plan to get married. Smith, who joked that Affleck should really be getting an award for his large ”manhood” (”Jen knows,” he added), told USA Today that he’d already given Affleck his wedding present and would be giving Lopez hers this week. ”I got them his-and-hers chairs I had painted as art pieces about their lives,” Smith said. ”They’re pretty cool. I mean, what do you get them?”

Few of the attendees apparently wanted to face the press and discuss their politics. According to USA Today, Affleck and Lopez entered through a back door, as did Harrison Ford (there to present an award to ”The Fall Guy” actress Heather Thomas and her husband, Hollywood attorney Skip Brittenham). Bruce Willis, Rob Reiner, and Bill Maher went in the front way but rushed past reporters. Honorees the Dixie Chicks didn’t even show; they’re still wrapping their tour.

Affleck sounded like a political activist on the podium. ”The Bush administration has continued to push a dangerous right-wing agenda which has included increasing encroachments on civil liberties, particularly with the questionable and aggressive use of the Patriot Act,” he said, according to the Daily News. Still, the outspoken Maher wondered what all the fuss was about, and he, too had J. Lo on the brain. ”I like Ben, but I don’t know what he’s done for freedom,” he told USA Today. ”He’s getting married, so that’s what he can do for freedom — break off that engagement! Just kidding, J. Lo.”