This blog post is about one of Woodrow Wilson’s successors as Governor of New Jersey. I cannot say this for sure, but I truly believe Chris Christie wants to be president. In the first place, back in the 2012 election, he made his speech at the Republican National Convention, which was supposed to be for the purpose of drumming up support for Mitt Romney, into The Life and Times of Chris Christie. Then, earlier this year, he got gastric-band surgery. This may seem irrelevant to a presidential election. However, there is an unfortunate fact about presidential elections: many voters take physical appearance into consideration. Ridiculous and unfair though it is, presidents that are short, overweight, or both have not been elected in America since television became widespread. Presidents like the 5’4″ James Madison and the 300+pound William Howard Taft were all elected before most Americans had T.V.s in their homes. Hence, in all probability, Christie has gotten the surgery to make himself slimmer. Otherwise, it seems probable he would have done it sooner. His timing speaks poorly to his claim that it the surgery nothing to do with presidential ambitions. However, the New Jersey governor is in the process of inadvertently ruining his chances in a general election. While avoiding the rabid, obsessive homophobia of the Rick Santorums, Mike Huckabees, and Jim DeMints of the GOP, Christie has consistently opposed gay marriage. At one time, this was the stance of President Obama, but Obama and most other Democrats have changed their positions. In 2012, Christie was presented with a bill that the legislature had passed legalizing gay marriage. He stated that while he favored the separate but equal civil unions New Jersey currently had in place for gays, he still opposed marriage equality and would not sign the bill.
Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage must be legalized in the state. Chris Christie had a golden opportunity here. He could have said that he was respecting the court’s decision, without explicitly giving his current opinion on gay marriage, and allow marriage equality to take effect in the Garden State. Then, sometime next year, he could have announced that he had come around to supporting gay marriage. This would have allowed him to appeal to moderate voters, including some Democrats who have fiscally conservative tendencies but have voted Democrat previously based on social issues. Instead, he is appealing the court decision, asking that it be reversed. He has stated that he is willing to put gay marriage to a public vote, but as many have pointed out, civil rights are inalienable, not dependent on the will of the majority.
The fact of the matter is that most conservative Christians will not vote for Chris Christie in a primary unless he’s competing only against people like Jon Huntsman, Lincoln Chafee, and Olympia Snowe. He has generally laughed off the fear by conservative Christians that Islam represents an internal threat and, in an attempt to straddle the fence on gay rights, signed a bill outlawing “ex-gay therapy” for minors. The conservative Christian hostility to Christie will not abate if he continues opposing gay marriage, since they will almost certainly have more virulently homophobic candidates to choose from. Christie has little to gain and much to lose from the path he is currently on. He is, however, running the risk of losing moderate and socially liberal/fiscally conservative votes if he manages to win the nomination. It will be best for him, as well as for the cause of equality, if his appeal is denied. This will allow him to eventually change his position without being known as the man who prevented gay marriage from being legalized in New Jersey. If he wins the appeal, and gay marriage is not legalized until another governor takes office, Christie’s die will have been cast. He will forever be known as being bigoted towards gays and lesbians, and come 2016, he will be unable to etch-a-sketch his way out of it.
What the Chris Christies of the world cannot see, though even Karl Rove is finally come to see it, is that we live in a very different world than we did fifteen, ten, or even five years ago. There was a time when the majority of Americans clearly opposed gay marriage, and taking the “oppose gay marriage, support civil unions” stance was considered progressive. In 2000, Howard Dean could be given an option by his state’s Supreme Court of legalizing gay marriage or legalizing civil unions, choose the civil unions, and still be considered a viable candidate for liberal Democrats. (To his credit, Dean did eventually come around to supporting marriage equality in 2010.) In essence, the fact that Christie is now considered conservative on gay rights for taking Dean’s old position shows how the times they are a-changing. The majority of Americans now realize that allowing civil unions for gays and allowing civil marriage for only heterosexuals represents a two-tiered, discriminatory system not entirely unlike requiring blacks and whites to use separate drinking fountains. Chris Christie has had many chances to reverse course, but he has rejected them all, and his political career may be headed straight off of a cliff.
This man believed civil rights should be decided by popular vote.
So does he.