Chris Christie is a committed social conservative whose reputation as a “moderate” is a manufactured political fantasy that the governor of New Jersey will abandon as soon as he begins bidding for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
But to make that 2016 run, Christie must be re-elected this November as governor of the socially liberal state of New Jersey. Only then can he pivot right and pitch himself as a sufficiently conservative candidate for Republican caucus participants in Iowa and primary voters in South Carolina.
So Christie must maintain the fantasy until November 5.
And that task just got a little harder.
On Friday, a New Jersey judge ordered state officials to begin allowing same-sex couples to marry starting October 21.
Concluding that the state’s existing civil union system wrongly deprives lesbian and gay couples of federal benefits that are available to married couples, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson wrote, “Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey constitution.”
The ruling is historic. In June, the US Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act, in a decision that cleared the way for same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits that are available to heterosexual couples. If it is upheld, Judge Jacobson’s ruling will make New Jersey the first state to establish marriage equality in response to the US Supreme Court’s ruling and its aftermath.
But Chris Christie has decided to stand athwart history, yelling “Stop.”
Immediately after Judge Jacobson’s ruling was made public, the governor’s office announced plans to appeal it to the state Supreme Court. If Christie’s lawyers appeal prior to October 21, the courts could issue a stay that would at least temporarily maintain the barrier to same-sex marriages in New Jersey.
That’s fine by Christie. He has already vetoed marriage equality legislation passed by the New Jersey legislature.
Typically, Christie has tried to have it both ways. Though he has gone out of his way to block same-sex marriages from taking place in New Jersey, he says he would abide by a referendum vote in favor of marriage equality. But there is nothing “moderate” about arguing that basic rights should be submitted to the whims of the electorate.
A referendum vote would very probably support same-sex marriage—polling suggests New Jerseyans favor marriage equality by a 60-31 margin. So why doesn’t Christie just accept the court’s ruling? Because he does not want those social conservatives in Iowa to think he cleared the way for fair treatment of lesbians and gays.
Christie’s challenger, Democrat Barbara Buono, is playing no such game.
She hailed the judge’s ruling as an affirmation “that all New Jerseyans, no matter who they love, deserve the right to marry.”
“It is also a stark reminder that Governor Christie stands on the wrong side of history,” added Buono. “At every turn, he has prevented our gay brothers and sisters from enjoying the same rights as other New Jerseyans. He must now make a decision whether to continue to be an obstacle or to be part of the solution.
Christie’s big-money re-election campaign, which highlights that carefully constructed “moderate” image, has kept the governor well ahead in the polls. And there is no question that Buono’s run remains an uphill one. But with the election barely a month away, she’s been handed an opportunity to confirm Christie’s conservatism—a conservatism that polls say puts him distinctly at odds with the vast majority of New Jerseyans.
As that distinction becomes clear, Buono argues, Christie’s cynicism might yet be his undoing.
“People have not been focused on the election,” Buono told radio host Michelangelo Signorile this week. “But when people get informed, and they learn that there is only one person standing between them and gay marriage and it’s Chris Christie then I think the polls will grow closer.”