Last week, the Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed a lower-court ruling requiring the state to allow same-sex marriage. This did two important things. First, it affirmed the fundamental equality of gays and lesbians before the law and provided same-sex couples with access to federal benefits. Second, it handed Governor Chris Christie a massive political gift.
I don’t want to minimize the legal, philosophical and political importance of the ruling in the fight for gay rights. I’ve written before about why I think the marriage equality fight is immensely important. But I think it’s worth noting that a majority of New Jerseyans already supported marriage equality. A majority of their elected representatives did too. In fact, they passed a law instituting it. The only reason same-sex marriage wasn’t already legal in New Jersey is that Chris Christie stood in its way — and even with the gastric bypass, he’s very hard to get around.
Christie conditionally vetoed the same-sex marriage bill, arguing that “an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.” This was a clever political move by Christie, and almost certainly a decision made with a presidential run in mind. It allowed him to claim to conservatives that he opposed gay marriage and claim to moderates that he was simply listening to the voice of the people. Christie is a supremely talented politician, and this was the most strategic position he could take. Still, it was vulnerable to attack from both sides. Liberals could attack the veto to capitalize on the support among young people for marriage equality. Conservatives could attack his support for a referendum which almost definitely would have legalized same-sex marriage to capitalize on the rabid social conservatism of Republican primary voters.
But not anymore! Now, liberals will barely remember that Christie opposed same-sex marriage. Most of the headlines have focused on Christie choosing not to appeal the state court’s ruling. My favorite is from Dave Weigel of Slate: “Chris Christie Withdraws Appeal of State’s Gay Marriage Ruling, Loses Iowa Caucuses”. Liberals see this as a pro-gay marriage move. But Christie would have lost that appeal. No one thinks he could have won. And in the process, he would have gotten a lot of press as a fighter against gay marriage.
Instead, Christie gets to engage in his favorite pastime: court bashing. He’s been in a long fight with the New Jersey Supreme Court, attacking its generally activist rulings and breaking with precedent by refusing to reappoint a liberal judge. His statement last week is in the same vein. He “strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people,” but he’s willing to do his constitutional duty and enforce the law. In one move, Christie get to present himself as a conservative struggling against an activist court, he gets to show — in stark contrast to Congressional Republicans — that he’s sane and responsible, and he undercuts the one attack his gubernatorial opponent Barbara Buono was making that was getting some traction.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
This week: The government is back, and better than ever. And by better, I mean laboring under the crushing burden of sequestration and a shutdown-induced drag on the economy. Console yourself by watching the PandaCam.