It’s no surprise that Chris Christie vows to contest the historic court ruling that legalizes gay marriage in the Garden State. The governor is politically compelled to break bad on equal rights, lest he sabatoge his chance to lead the party of unequal rights in 2016.
The Superior Court ruling came down on Friday, and it was no surprise, either. New Jersey’s gay marriage ban was so blatantly out of sync with New Jersey’s constitution that a rational judge needed only to point it out. As the berobed Mary C. Jacobson duly noted, Article I of the document says, “All persons are by nature free and independent, and have natural and inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.” That’s all persons, sharing the same rights.
Marriage equality lawyers brought the case to Jacobson in late June, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a milestone decision that legally-married gays deserve to get the same 1,138 federal benefits that married straights get. Jersey’s marriage equality lawyers rightly argued that the state gay marriage ban discriminates against gay couples, denying them “the full array of federal marital benefits,” in violation of the state constitution’s equal rights language.
On Friday, Jacobson endorsed that argument: “Same-sex couples are only offered the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples if they are married…Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey constitution.” Indeed, she wrote, “the current inequality…offends the New Jersey constitution.”
A governor who truly believes in equality would let that dourt decision stand. But no, this governor has other priorities. It is vitally important that he appeal the decision, continue to offend the New Jersey constitution, and cement himself on the wrong side of history. Because it would be political suicide for him to offend the right-wing gatekeepers in early GOP presidential primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, where litmus-test voters truly believe – in defiance of the American mainstream – that gay marriage is an “assault on the foundation of our society.” That phrase appears in the national Republican platform.
He aspires to lead a party that’s on the wrong side of history, which has to be a tad awkward for a blue-state guy. Epecially a blue-state guy with lots of moderate moves on his track record – like his support for “a common-sense path to citizenship,” his support for science (“climate change is real…human activity plays a role in these changes”), and his support for “some of the gun control measures we have in New Jersey,” including its assault-weapons ban. That stuff alone is sufficient ammo for any ’16 conservative candidate who might wish to paint Christie as an illegal immigrant-loving science freak who wants to seize your guns.
All the more reason for him to hew to the right-wing conviction that gays are lesser beings with lesser rights. Accordingly, his spokesman said this weekend that he will appeal Judge Jacobson’s ruling to the highest state court (“we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination”); and although Jacobson decreed that Jersey gays can be legally married beginning Oct. 21, Christie is likely to ask a court to nix that date. Meanwhile, his 2012 veto of a gay marriage bill, duly enacted by the people’s elected representatives, still stands – another manifestation of his fealty to the national party’s ideologues.
It’s easy to see how this extended episode plays out. If the state Supreme Court ultimately echoes Jacobson (a very plausible outcome), Christie could potentially have it both ways. He could essentially tell the GOP base, “Hey, folks, I fought the good fight for inequality as long as I could, but now my hands are tied, the judges have ruled” – and then perfect a primary-season rant against “activist judges who legislate from the bench.” That could work. The rabid right loves to fume about lost causes.
But for now, and for a foreseeable time, Christie will seek to perpetuate state-sanctioned discrimination. Jacobson concluded that “(gay couples’) right to equal protection under the New Jersey constitution should not be delayed until some undeterminable future time. In the face of an injury of constitutional proportions, the court must act.” It’s a shame, but oh so predictable, that a politician would cause such injury in the service of ambition.
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