New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is holding firm on his stance that marriage equality should be put to the ballot — here’s why that is a big mistake.
Asked in a prerecorded interview for the CBS show “Sunday Morning” whether he “believed in” same-sex marriage, Christie unsurprisingly said he did not. More interesting here though is that he went on to repeat his call to put marriage equality to the ballot, saying:
“But what I will tell you is that I understand that good people of good will have a difference of opinion on this. And so my view on it is, put it on the ballot. Let the people decide.”
Until now Christie’s “put it to the ballot” position has seemed to serve him well because it has allowed him to keep his moderate Republican credentials intact, frustrating but not overly antagonizing supporters of marriage equality on the left and placating his friends on the right.
However, the legal landscape in New Jersey is no longer in doubt: there is for same-sex couples now a definable right to access marriage in New Jersey.
Why that should be was explained with utmost clarity by State Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in a court ruling delivered Friday, September 27, that demonstrated the New Jersey constitution’s clear promise of equal treatment for its citizens and how, because the federal government doesn’t recognize New Jersey civil unions but does now recognize same-sex marriages, same-sex couples are harmed by the denial of rights that comes from not being able to access the legal term “marriage.”
Since New Jersey currently denies marriage to same-sex couples, same-sex civil union partners in New Jersey are ineligible for many federal marital benefits. The parallel legal structures created by the New Jersey Legislature therefore no longer provide same-sex couples with equal access to the rights and benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, violating the mandate of Lewis and the New Jersey Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.
Judge Jacobson ordered marriage equality to go into force on October 21, but gave the state time to appeal. The Christie administration wasted no time and is doing just that.
Christie, though, now has a problem.
Where once his continued refusal to sign a marriage equality bill and his “put it on the ballot” refrain had created an annoying impasse, his position would appear untenable if, that is, he wants to hold on to his “compassionate conservative” credentials.
Christie is maintaining that this issue is actually a federal problem: that the government should recognize civil unions and therein New Jersey would be able to allow same-sex couples access to equal pension and tax rights and responsibilities. It misses the point that the New Jersey Supreme Court has already made clear: that citizens must be treated equally under the law.
Prior to Friday’s ruling, Christie was able to argue that civil unions were from a legal point of view “good enough.” No longer is that the case, and now Christie’s “put it to the ballot” message rings hollow because his administration has been shown in no uncertain terms how the state is treating its same-sex couples unequally. Put simply, Christie appears to be putting his own religious beliefs ahead of his duty to New Jersey citizens.
As Christie is hotly tipped as a 2016 Republican candidate for President, he may in the long term not care too much about losing some moderates.
However, he must first win New Jersey’s gubernatorial race where moderate Blue-leaning voters could be key in seeing him re-elected. As such, his refusal to budge on the same-sex marriage issue could cost him dearly while his apparent arrogance at rejecting this as a fault not of the state but rather the federal government could see him embarrassed by the state supreme court when, as now seems inevitable, the case for same-sex marriage is once again tested.
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