The New York Times’ Kate Zernike lauds New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) for asking voters to decide if gay and lesbian people should be allowed to marry and praises the GOP’s “rising” star for his “considerable political skills” in out-maneuvering Democrats on the issue. Zernike characterizes Christie’s push for a vote on gay people’s civil rights as a win-win “to a public suspicious of government” and the national Republican party, without ever mentioning the consequences of the decision for gay and lesbian families who are seeking legal recognition and protection from the state or the injustice of calling on the majority to vote on the rights of a minority:
The governor announced that he believed same-sex marriage should be put before voters in November. Republicans whom Democrats had been counting on quickly backed him.
To a public suspicious of government, Mr. Christie might come across as reasonable — why let 121 people in the Legislature decide? — rather than retrograde. And by affirming that he opposed same-sex marriage and would veto the Democrats’ legislation, he avoided alienating the conservative voters who are the key to the hopes of any Republican with national ambition. Putting the issue on the ballot could even help burnish Mr. Christie’s image among national Republicans; same-sex marriage ballot initiatives have tended to bring out a swell of conservative voters to defeat them, which could help a Republican presidential nominee even in a blue state like New Jersey.
In Zernike’s narrative, it’s the Democrats who are ideologically obtuse and demanding. Christie is the brilliant political player whose charming reputation “as the big, blunt-talking guy” is quickly winning over New Jersey voters and national Republican leaders. The governor has cajoled Democrats to support “a property tax cap, limits on collective bargaining and changes to state employees’ health and pension benefits” and, Zernike writes, again managed to dance very carefully “to get what he wants” on the marriage issue, “disarming his critics or leaving them sputtering as they try to figure out his next move.”
New Jersey Democrats were, indeed, surprised to hear that Christie — who had initially left the door open to marriage equality — had told a town hall meeting that he would veto the measure on the very day that the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering a bill extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians. The comments provided instant cover for Republicans on the Committee to vote against the legislation and dismayed the same-sex couples who had delivered emotional testimony detailing how the states’ existing civil unions law allows hospitals to discriminate against their relationships and relegates them to second-class status.
But Christie’s “critics” were in no way “disarmed,” either. During the Committee’s closing comments — as lawmakers cast their votes on the marriage bill — Democrats chided Christie for his political cowardice. Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) directly addressed Christie’s call for a referendum, saying, “The last time to my knowledge we put a civil right issue on referendum in the state of New Jersey was in 1915 and it was woman’s suffrage issue and the vote went down,” she said. “Women were not allowed to vote. This is our responsibility in this legislature.” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) reminded the governor, “We vote on issues here, we don’t put civil rights on the ballot” and Newark Mayor Cory Booker also weighed in, comparing marriage equality to the struggle for Civil Rights. “I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to popular votes in our 50 states,” Booker said in a statement. “Equal protection under the law — for race, religion, gender or sexual orientation — should not be subject to the most popular sentiments of the day….I hope our leaders in Trenton will affirm and defend it.” Or, at the very least, reporters take the time to report it.