New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) decision to place same-sex marriage on the ballot has drawn some sharp criticism from many in his state. Christie tried to defend the move by arguing that “people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South” – a comparison Newark Mayor Cory Booker and other African American leaders condemned.
Now, New Jerseyans and the tri-state media are pushing back against the proposed referendum, claiming that an issue of equal rights should not be decided at the ballot box:
— NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: To turn what is a matter of civil rights over to voters would be an abdication of lawmakers’ duty. It would also be a sharp break with New Jersey tradition. The last time the state held a referendum on civil rights was 1915, when a majority voted “no” on granting women the right to vote.
— STAR-LEDGER EDITORIAL: Take race relations. If Southern states could have held a referendum on free speech rights for Martin Luther King Jr., can anyone doubt how it would have turned out? How long would it have taken for voters in Mississippi to integrate its public schools? Gallup has traced attitudes toward interracial marriage for decades. Note that when the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban in 1967, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans supported the court’s position. If Christie’s philosophy had carried the day, the ban would have remained in place until the late 1990s. The point is that minority rights should not be subjected to majority vote. That misses the gist of constitutional rights.
— MYCENTRALJERSEY.COM EDITORIAL: There is, however, a reason we elect representatives, to conduct the business that cannot be done by the masses at every turn. And sometimes, that means transcending public opinion to do what’s right, to overcome prejudice and ignorance that can die hard.
— BERGEN RECORD COLUMNIST ALFRED DOBLIN: Civil rights should not be determined by popular vote. Our nation has failed at that task almost every time. The public is swayed by emotion. Today it is manipulated by slick, expensive advertising campaigns. California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage was all about politics and money. I marvel how the governor kept a straight – pun intended – face when he said putting marriage equality on the ballot in a presidential election year would make the issue non-political.
— PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER COLUMNIST KEVIN RIORDAN: In calling for an American Idol-style yea-nay about the private lives of thousands of New Jerseyans, Christie seems to have forgotten something. “We are debating about the lives of real people,” the bill cosponsor, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, told the hearing. Marriage equality, the Bergen County Democrat added, is about “people we all know, love and respect.”