”Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
President Obama surprised most of America on Monday by becoming the first president to mention the word “gay” and the issue of gay rights during a presidential swearing in. The speech puts an exclamation point on the end of an “evolution” that finds him leading the drive towards equal treatment of the LGBT community.
Even right-wing pundits didn’t know quite what to make of it. Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s speech “amazing” and “very important historically,” while Chris Wallace referred to it as a “call to arms for the liberal agenda.”
Which brings me to Chris Christie.
Christie takes every chance he gets to bemoan President Obama’s lack of leadership on important, non-Hurricane Sandy related issues. But by throwing down the gauntlet on gay rights, Obama leaves Christie in a precarious political position in a state where the majority of voters favor marriage equality.
Back in 2011, legislation passed in Trenton that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry, but it was vetoed by Christie in February 2012, who said the decision to let gay people marry in the Garden State should be left up to the voters.
Why? Christie said, “I just do not believe that marriage should be between anyone but a man and a woman.”
That’s it. It’s that simple for Christie to let his personal views justify the discrimination of over 24,000 gay couples living in the Garden State.
That’s not leadership… it’s chutzpah.
Since Christie’s veto, three states (Maryland, Maine and Washington) have enacted legislation allowing same sex couples to marry, and 53 percent of the public currently supports the idea of marriage equality.
In addition, the American Foundation for Equal Rights listed New Jersey as a “state to watch” for gay marriage reform in 2013.
In other words, Christie won’t be able to avoid this issue for long.
Christie finds himself in a vulnerable position politically on the issue of gay marriage. While the country has moved in favor of marriage equality, a disparity that will only continue to grow over the next four years, a majority of Republicans are still opposed to the idea of letting a couple of dudes get married.
Christie has already bucked party members by his vocal support of President Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and his tongue lashing of House Speaker John Boehner over delays on Sandy relief funds didn’t win him any new Republican friends. Right-wing icons like Rush Limbaugh are already referring to Christie as a “Republican in name only,” or RINO, in an attempt to blunt his popularity prior to a run at the Presidency.
Christie has shown that he doesn’t count himself among the knuckle-draggers of his party, and his ability to be an independent thinker and actually work with Democrats have earned him praise and record support in New Jersey. And unlike some members of his party, Christie’s no homophobe. He has stated on numerous occasions that same-sex couples deserve the same benefits heterosexual couples enjoy.
So Christie has a choice – side with the majority of New Jerseyans, and the over-whelming momentum of the country, towards marriage equality, or let politics and personal religious beliefs dictate his position on the most important civil rights issue of our time. Will Christie evolve on the issue, or join fellow Republicans who don’t believe in evolution in the first place.
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.