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Christie’s solution

Timothy Kincaid

August 6th, 2013

Suppose that you believe that gay couples should have the rights that come with marriage and are governor of a state that supports marriage equality. But, being a Catholic Republican with presidential aspirations, you know that supporting gay marriage might come at a very high political cost. What do you do?

If you’re Chris Christie, you could support civil unions. You could veto a marriage equality bill while talking up the rights that come with your state’s civil unions bill.

And that worked for a while. In a pro-marriage state with about a 13% advantage for Democrats, Christie remains about 30 points ahead of his Democratic opponent in his campaign for reelection in November.

But the overturn of DOMA3 has raised complications. No longer do civilly united gay couples in New Jersey have the same rights as married gay couples next door in New York. This puts Christie in a contradictory position: claiming to support full equality for same-sex couples, but standing in the way of its implementation.

The most obvious solutions to this dilemma are not particularly politically palatable. If Christie were reverse and support marriage equality and ask for the legislature to forward him another marriage bill, this would not sit well with many who will be voting in the Republican primaries in 2016. And were he to quietly encourage Republican legislators to join with Democrats in overturning his veto, such an act could give the impression that he is a weak governor, unable to keep his own party in check.

So instead, Christie appears to have developed a strategy that could insulate him from the process: losing in court.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of the state of New Jersey ruled that “unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution.” However, they allowed the correction of that unequal dispensation by civil unions rather than marriage. As the federal government recognized neither structure for same sex couples, only state-granted rights were up for consideration and the court accepted ‘separate but equal’ arguments.

Now, after the striking down of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, the situation has changed. Irrespective of arguments about the inherent inequality of separate institutions, there are now tangible and irrefutable differences between the two; marriages are allowed the benefits and obligations that come with federal recognition, civil unions are not.

And so a lawsuit has been raised, asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to revise their ruling in the light of these changes and to require the state to offer marriage equality. Christie is the defendant. And as best I can tell, he seems determined to lose.

Christie and his legal team have crafted an argument that, while complete legal nonsense, allows him to position himself as a champion of gay couples. He’s declared that the federal government is obligated to recognize civil unions as marriages. And, if it does not do so, plaintiffs should sue the Obama Administration instead of him.

Despite its chutzpah, it’s astoundingly smart. Christie can shift his presented stance from oppressor to advocate, merely by asserting an absurdity. It is he who wants his state’s gay couples to have federal rights, you see, and it’s the Obama Administration that is refusing equality. And it has the added benefit of positioning him to (as I suspect he will) champion the idea of federal civil unions recognition when he makes his presidential run.

Of course, this notion is extremely likely to fail in court. The Obama Administration lacks the authority to treat non-married couples as married, and Congress will not be passing legislation to do so. And, with seven years of history down the road and a marriage support rate in New Jersey of about 60%, the NJ Supreme Court is not going to decide that less equality is acceptable. Nor are they going to buy the wacky notion that “civil union spouses” are already legally entitled to federal recognition.

The most likely outcome is that the NJ Supremes will simply require the state to recognize same-sex marriages and Christie will defer to the will of the court. Voila, the issue disappears in New Jersey and Christie can continue to say that he supported equal treatment through civil unions but defended the traditional definition of marriage.

Comments

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Ryan
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

I think you’re giving Christie far too much credit. I think Christie is genuinely one of those people NOM talks about who have no animus towards gay people but “simply” have a sincerely-held religious belief that gay marriage is wrong. Those people are only slightly less rare than unicorns, but they do exist and I believe Christie’s one of them. He’s not trying to lose. He’s really trying hard to prevent marriage equality from coming to NJ. I think the fact that he was first to jump out to denounce the DOMA ruling in pretty harsh terms.

Kaleo
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

Timothy – I think you hit the nail on the head. I live in Jersey and have never seen Christie as being against gay marriage other than for political reasons. I’ve been extremely frustrated by his stance – but in talking to many friends, from tea party conservatives to far left liberals, almost all are in agreement that it’s all about his future career aspirations.

acoolerclimate
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

I live in NJ. I think Christie is trying to run out the clock until he gets elected President. He asks the court to go very slow before they rule. (Well, he really has told them, but he has to appear that he’s asking). Then once they do rule, he’ll appeal, and then that case will take a glacial amount of time before it’s decided. If he gets his way, the court case won’t be decided until he’s gone out of Jersey.

TampaZeke
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

I’m surprised at how many people give him a free pass that he’s not really anti-gay, he’s just harming thousands of gay couples to protect his personal political aspirations. I’m less offended by Westboro Baptist Church, who take extremely offensive positions that they REALLY BELIEVE IN, than a person who believes gay people should be equal but has to play games, pretend and harm gay people because of his own ego and hunger for power.

Mark
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

Isn’t it at least possible that Christie passionately believes–for reasons he refuses to reveal, since doing so would hurt him in a blue state like NJ–that gays and lesbians should be denied the right to marry? It’s hard to believe his political position would have been harmed by an override, which would have allowed the issue to be eliminated without his endorsement in any way of equal rights.

While Christie is quick with the press release about how committed he is to equality, does anyone believe if he were governor of Pennsylvania, that he’d be supporting civil unions? His position on this issue has been right out of the NOM playbook in New Hampshire in 2011-2012–with some form of relationship recognition inevitable, to stronlyg defend civil unions while fighting tooth and nail against full equality.

Lord_Byron
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

@Mark

I doubt it would hurt him in NJ. As polls point out he is ahead by 30 points and it looks like he is going to be reelected. Not a prospect I like since he shows zero respect for even his own constituents

Lindoro Almaviva
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

And if I was his Democratic oponent, I would use the words in his brief against him. I would make sure everybody remembers that he:

1. Had a chance to lead not only in the state, but in the USA and he chose to support a form of segregation

2. He dug his heels on supporting that form of segregation on the face of overwhelming support

3. He failed to do his job, which was to listen to the people and do what was expected of him; chosing instead to do his party’s bidding

4. He failed to lead, again, by choosing, again, to support a form of segregation going as far as arguing that it was the job of the government to allow him to continue this form of Separate but equal

5. Point out how much money his loosing strategy is costing tax payers and compare how much faster the rebuilding of the shore would have been. I would also point out other projects could have been using that money, noticing how many more jobs could have been created and the benefits to the local economy

6. Point out that he is hoping to be president and remind the voters that a man who can not lead at a national level, as he had a chance to do, should not be president, let alone governor of the state.

So, you are very welcomed Governor Christie for the fact that you are not facing me, because if you were, I would be your worst nightmare from here to November.

Zack
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

This is all political to him and nothing more.
I would also note that back in 2009,New Jersey Democrats in the Senate had a chance to pass gay marriage and choose not to.
Christie is theo nly man stopping gay marriage now but if the Democrats in 09 had done the right thing,it would have been a moot point.

Mark
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

@Lord Byron:

If he came out and said he doesn’t believe in equal rights, I suspect it would hurt him some in NJ. Probably not enough to cost him the election, but enough to lessen his margin. Hence his decision to refuse to give a reason for his position, beyond a generic statement that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, and to couple that with his preposterous assertion that he supports equal rights.

There seems to be a presumption in this post and in some of the comments that Christie probably believes in equal marriage but is holding back for political reasons. I don’t see anything in his behavior to suggest that’s true.

And yes, definitely, this wouldn’t be an issue if the Democrats had shown some courage and had passed equality when they controlled the governorship. Now there’s a good chance there won’t be equality until a new governor takes office in 2018, given Christie’s influence over the state Supreme Court.

acoolerclimate
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

“Lindoro Almaviva” Thank you for your comments. I love them! I’ve been writing Christie about Marriage Equality. (To no avail, but I have to do something), but I didn’t come up with your great comments.

Stefan
August 6th, 2013 | LINK

Christie’s influence over the court seems to be telling them to allow same-sex marriage. The ploy for a slower trial is just that, a ploy. Every legal expert I’ve talked to are saying that summary judgment is likely, so the issue would likely be resolved before election day in November. This is exactly what he should want.

Mark
August 7th, 2013 | LINK

This case is before a lower court. Any decision here could then be appealed to the State Supreme Court, one of whose members has been appointed by Christie–with two vacancies awaiting successful Christie nominations, and another seat coming up for reappointment in three months. It’s all but inconceivable that the state Supreme Court would resolve any appeal before November.

Stefan
August 7th, 2013 | LINK

The Senate won’t confirm any of Christie’s nominations. Two fill-ins have been appointed, one Republican and one Democrat, so right now the court is 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats, and 1 Independent, hardly a conservative court by any means. Also, since summary judgments obviously move quickly, it’s very much conceivable that it could all be resolved before November, if not then for sure by year’s end.

Rob
August 7th, 2013 | LINK

Mark- ummm, how is this case before a “lower court”? Did the State Supreme Court suddenly become a lower court?? Timothy rightly points out in his article that this is a case before the State Supreme Court since prior to 2006 and that the new lawsuit is asking the State Supreme Court to act accordingly due to the DOMA ruling.

The lower courts ruled on this already, that is how and why the State Supreme Court has made it’s initial ruling 7 years ago…

MattNYC
August 8th, 2013 | LINK

@acoolerclimate

“I think Christie is trying to run out the clock until he gets elected President.”

There is ZERO chance that Christie will be the nominee of his party. The only way he will ever reside in Washington is as a lobbyist, Senator, or head of the RNC.

This is a naked and bad political calculus. Since the moderates are essentially voiceless in the GOP primaries, the Tea Baggers (who hate him because he hates Rand Paul and shook hands with Pres. Obama) and Christian Taliban (who hate him because he has failed to advocate for the execution of gays and abortion supporters), he has no route to become the nominee. His wishy-washiness is another thing his party’s loyalists will not respect. We already know they prefer “strong and wrong” to anything else. I think he’d garner more respect from the moderates–who back ME–and maybe even inspire them to outvote the lunatics if he were to end this idiocy and say he’ll go ahead and sign the ME legislation.

But he won’t, because he’s a cowardly opportunist, and his ego grows even as his waistline shrinks.

With any luck, his over-confidence will knock him out of office and NJ will return to sanity.

cd
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

Actually, the NJ state legislature could overrule Christie with 2/3s majorities in both chambers and be done with it all.

A sufficient number of Republican state legislators could be stuck in traffic, at home feeling horribly sick but cured later the day of the override vote, visiting foreign countries, at their kid’s college graduation, or accidentally in the bathroom just while the override votes are taken. That’s how it’s done in our state. Then later these folks happen to get some extra pork for their district and no one can quite remember why or who requested it or how it was approved. That’s how it’s done in other states- like mine.

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