By Jay R. Lassiter | July 8th, 2013 - 9:07am
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Chris Christie doesn't like talking about marriage equality.  This grumpy performance on NJ101.5 is proof of that.  Unfortunately for the Governor, marriage equality has come up a lot lately, especially in light of the US Supreme Court's (mostly) pro-gay rulings on both Prop 8 and DOMA.  

Between Christie's refusal to address "stupid questions" about gay rights and his adolescent huffs of "whatever!", the Governor called the conservative-leaning court's ruling an act of "judicial supremacy."  Christie then trained his sights most keenly on Justice Anthony Kennedy for failing to uphold DOMA, the unconstitutional, retrograde 90s-era Federal ban on gay unions, calling Kennedy's pivotal vote, "incredibly insulting."  

Go ahead, watch the video.  It's 6 awkward minutes of Chris Christie squirming and eager to talk about anything else, even New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes!  

This footage reveals just how brittle the Chris Christie juggernaut really is when the Governor isn't 100% controlling the message.  Basically when Chris Christie's not large-and-in-charge, he instantly reverts to the cranky old man yelling "get off my lawn!"

But if you were on the wrong side of history, and you knew it, you'd probably be cranky too.  

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

It's summer time and the living is easy, right?  Vacation beckons all of us, gay and straight alike.  But as gays and lesbians travel around American, our civil rights fade in and out like cell phone reception.  

For example, my partner Greg and I could drive to Maryland (where I grew up) get legally married and enjoy the fruits of full equality.  Four bars indeed, to continue the cell phone metaphor.  On our way back to New Jersey (where our Civil Union gives us TWO BARS) we pass through Pennsylvania, where gay couples are virtual legal strangers with ZERO BARS (excluding Philly, which recognizes domestic partnerships [ONE BAR?] for gays.) 

Oh, let's not forget that teensy 8 mile part of the journey that passes through Delaware were Marriage Equality just kicked in.  Me and Greg would get FOUR BARS in Delaware too.  Which sure makes Rehoboth a more appealing shore destination than, say, Asbury Park or Atlantic City.  

RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Never mind the 1000+ Federal rights and responsibilities denied to gay couples (tax fairness, inheritance and visitation et al), my partner and I approach our 10-year-anniversary in a sort of legal  limbo.  

But we're also deprived of the right and privilege to pronounce our love to family and friends with the only currency of commitment the real world has ever understood: Marriage.  Greg and I don't want anything new or special or different than (for example) my brother Adam has with his wife Carrie.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

That's what 'four bars' would mean to me.

UNFORTUNATELY....

For now, the fate of marriage equality in NJ rests in the hands of two straight men: Governor Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney.  They seem content to play tit for tat on the subject, thus relegating the most important civil rights battle of our time to a game of political hot potato.  Christie refuses to sign a marriage equality bill passed by the legislature.  Sweeney refuses to post a vote for a referendum on November's ballot.

To be fair, Sweeney is on the right side of history, standing firmly with The Gays.  And while he hasn't always supported full equality, he's become a firm ally calling his erstwhile lack of support  the "biggest mistake of my career."  I agree with Sweeney on principle that voting for minority rights can be fraught with peril, as history has proven with the case of women and blacks in our nation's not-too-distant past.

But I also was on the ground in Maryland last November where voters actually passed the equality referendum into law.  So while I see Sweeney's point, his refusal to even consider a referendum still seems like a curious move.  And it feels a teensy bit political.  

But it's nothing compared to the raft of politically expedient malarkey the Governor is serving up.

CHRISTIE THE OUTLIER

Given the increasing likelihood that's Chris Christie will be his party's 2016 standard bearer, his words and deeds rightfully bring more scrutiny than his fellow GOPoliticians. To wit: does anyone outside of Pennsylvania care what Gov. Tom Corbett has to say on the topic?  Chris Christie is different.  His national profile (and hunger for power) make his views more relevant locally, statewide and nationally.  That's why Christie's getting asked so often about marriage equality.  

The questions aren't simply coming from bitchy gay liberal bloggers (like me) or political rivals (like Sweeney) they're also coming from folks like Eric Scott, news director at Christie's favorite news outlet, NJ101.5.  The whole State House press corps is asking.  The national press is talking about it.  The elitists at events like the upcoming Sun Valley Conference (where Christie's on the VIP list) will all be talking about it.  Take a quick peek at the list of big wigs who'll be in Sun Valley. EVERYONE on the list (save Christie) who's weighed in on the subject is pro-Equality.  

CERTAIN SHADES OF HISTORY CAN WRECK A MAN'S REPUTATION

You saw in the video Christie refer to pro-Gay progress as "inappropriate" and "wrong."  He's not opaque about his anti-equality opinions. To the contrary Christie seems content to brandish his retrograde views on marriage. 

"No one has to worry about my principles,’’ Chris Christie boasts.  Each time the question comes up, Christie's tone sounds increasingly intractable. He's even taken to referring to gay people with the clinical term "homosexuals" which is the parlance of those who really, really don't like gay folks.  

(Queer Eye Advise: Gays don't like being called "homosexuals."   You wouldn't call a Jewish person "a Jew" and you wouldn't call someone from China "an Oriental."   So please don't call us "homosexual."  So unless you're talking to Mamie Eisenhower please just call us "gay.")

Chris Christie parrots the idea that marriage is the exclusive dominion of "a man and a woman" suggesting that Civil Unions are a separate but equal legal arrangement for The Gays.  As for a referendum?  This idea is a political cop-out on Christie's part.  An attempt to have his cake (in Iowa 2016) and eat it too (New Jersey 2013.)  I say the people already have voted for it: we elected a legislature, a majority of whom supported Marriage Equality.  

Christie goes on to cite "2000 years of history" to justify his narrow views on Gay Rights.  Clearly New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has drawn a line in the dust.   It reminds me of another blustery, high profile Governor who refused to evolve when history presented itself. His name was George Wallace.  (Note to Christie: Civil Unions are not the same as marriage. Separate is still not equal.) 

Is Chris Christie a modern-day version of George Wallace?  Dunno.  That's for history to decide.  

But here's one thing I do know: history is written by those who prevail.  And with each passing day it's increasingly clear that The Gays will eventually prevail and marriage equality will be achieved in all 50 states.  It's inevitable.  And I also know that time can be unkind to whoever tries to stand in the way of historical, inevitable change.  (Looking at you, Governor.) 

This isn't to say Chris Christie is as rabidly hostile to gays as George Wallace was to blacks.  He's not. But what is the same in both cases is the mentality of the political base each man groveled to.  In Wallace's case it was the undeniably bigoted wing of in his party, the so-called "Dixiecrats."  Fast forward to 2013 and you've got Chris Christie playing to the foaming-at-the-mouth GOP primary voter in places like Iowa and South Carolina.  So in that score, Chris Christie definitely fits the Wallace mold. 

WHAT CONSCIENCE?

It's not crazy to suggest that the Republicans in Trenton are unable to vote their conscience without staring down the barrel of Chris Christie's angry rhetorical bazooka.  GOP fealty to Chris Christie is the worst kept secret in Trenton since Governor Jim McGreevey's sexual preference.  Chris Christie keeps the GOP caucuses in Trenton on a tight leash.  It's a fact. 

In many cases, Republicans are left navigating that narrow space between voting Christie's way and voting how they want - or how their constituents want. Or how their conscience suggests they should vote.    Which is why Senator President Steve Sweeney was right-on to question his GOP colleagues' unwillingness or inability to "vote their conscience" on Marriage Equality, even in defiance to Christie's demands.  

Naturally the Governor and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. cried foul when Sweeney said what everyone in Trenton already knows:  GOP Senators and Assembly members are too chickensh*t to cross the Governor.  On anything.  Ever. 

If Chris Christie and Tom Kean Jr. are truly "insulted" by what Sweeney says about them, just imagine how Christie and Junior will feel when they see what history has to say about them.  It'll be a lot more insulting than anything me or Steve Sweeney might say.

OK SO NOW WHAT?

If you made it this far, you can understand why gays and lesbians in New Jersey aren't waiting for the Governor or the Legislature to do what's right.  I mean, we hope they get their act together, but I've just spelled out in detail why such a rapid evolution is unlikely. 

So we're taking matters into our own hands and pressing for Marriage Equality in the courts.  

PolitickerNJ: 

New Jersey gay rights advocates filed a motion in Superior Court Wednesday asking a judge to secure “state-sanctioned marriage” as legal for same-sex couples in the Garden State. The summary judgment, filed by Lambda Legal, asks the courts for immediate relief in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court hearing – United States v. Windsor – that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The filing is part of ongoing litigation in the state’s court system that is challenging the equality of New Jersey’s civil union system. The plaintiffs in the case are asking the court to act immediately.

And the DOMA ruling has given our side both a window to act and unprecedented momentum to succeed. 

“After the Supreme Court’s decision, … a trial in this matter is no longer necessary,” reads the filing.  “Married same-sex couples in states that respect their marriages are eligible for the complete, vast array of federal rights, benefits and obligations. But for plaintiffs and other same-sex couples in New Jersey who may access only civil union, full federal benefits are unavailable.

 Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal's Deputy Legal Director said that in a post-DOMA world, "New Jersey is...in direct violation of the New Jersey Supreme Court order we won in 2006 that requires equality for same-sex couples, and in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Federal Constitution." 

"New Jersey's discrimination is all that bars same-sex couples from the full array of federal protections for their families," she concluded.

By hook or by crook we'll get there.  Maybe our legislature will summon the courage to override Chris Christie's veto.  Maybe the Governor will change his mind.  Perhaps equality will come via referendum in November.  It's even possible that equality will be delivered via Superior Court injunction.  

If I were a betting man, my money would be on Superior Court.  And for what it's worth, I predict they rule in our favor.  I'm even go out on a limb and predict it'll happen very soon. 

With or without Gov. Chris Christie.

 

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