Christie’s yield to same-sex mar­riage seen as shrewd ploy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

In a de­ci­sion with di­rect im­pli­ca­tions for the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial race, Gov. Chris Christie or­dered his at­tor­ney gen­eral Mon­day not to fight a court de­ci­sion le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage, mak­ing New Jersey the na­tion’s 14th state to rec­og­nize same-sex unions.

The ca­pit­u­la­tion on the hot-but­ton so­cial is­sue is an about-face for Mr. Christie and may ce­ment his rep­u­ta­tion as a prag­ma­tist who fights to win — but shrewdly folds when he sees he has a los­ing hand, said some po­lit­i­cal ob­servers. It also may boost the gov­er­nor’s vote to­tal in his re-elec­tion race next month, fur­ther bur­nish­ing his sta­tus as a rare Repub­li­can politi­cian who can thrive in a blue state.

But that same pragmatism may hurt his stand­ing with the GOP po­lit­i­cal base as Mr. Christie faces a field of more con­ser­va­tive ri­vals in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­maries. So­cial con­ser­va­tives Mon­day were con­demn­ing Mr. Christie’s de­ci­sion to call off the fight, al­low­ing the court to essen­tially over­turn the state law against gay mar­riage.

“Ahead of us is a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis,” said Len Deo, pres­i­dent of the New Jersey Fam­ily Pol­icy Coun­cil.

The New Jersey Supreme Court “al­lowed a sin­gle judge to de­cide for the en­tire state what mar­riage is, tread­ing on both the gov­er­nor and the leg­is­la­ture in do­ing so,” said Mr. Deo. There are no pro­vi­sions for re­li­gious ex­emp­tions, “mean­ing we will soon see peo­ple threat­ened with in­tol­er­a­ble choices be­tween their con­sciences and their au­tho­riza­tion to min­is­ter to the needy or con­duct busi­ness with the pub­lic,” he said.

The state al­lows same-sex civil unions, but Mr. Christie him­self ve­toed a gay-mar­riage bill in Fe­bru­ary 2012 while call­ing on the Leg­is­la­ture to let state vot­ers weigh in on the is­sue through a ref­er­en­dum.

Mr. Christie, heav­ily fa­vored to win a sec­ond term Nov. 5 against his Demo­cratic chal­lenger, state Sen. Bar­bara Buono, may have ex­panded his ap­peal to some blocs in New Jersey with the gay-mar­riage de­ci­sion, po­lit­i­cal ob­servers said. It fol­lows a sur­prise move by the gov­er­nor in a de­bate with Ms. Buono on Wed­nes­day open­ing the door to of­fer­ing im­mi­grants liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally to pay in-state tu­ition rates at the state’s col­leges.

“I think the gov­er­nor wants to win with a very big mar­gin,” said Ben Dworkin, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Rider Univer­sity and di­rec­tor of the Re­bovich In­sti­tute for New Jersey Pol­i­tics.

He said the im­mi­gra­tion com­ments marked a “180-de­gree turn” from the gov­er­nor’s pre­vi­ous stance.

The tu­ition de­ci­sion may play well in New Jersey, but may “not be the best thing for a Repub­li­can run­ning for pres­i­dent,” Mr. Dworkin said.

How­ever, the mar­riage de­ci­sion “can still help him” in a pres­i­den­tial run: He can claim that he op­posed it un­til blocked by the courts — and get credit from some gay-mar­riage sup­port­ers be­cause he dropped the ap­peal, he added.

“It’s a very neat way of thread­ing the nee­dle” on the gay­mar­riage is­sue, he said, adding that “in a crowded Repub­li­can pri­mary,” Mr. Christie is likely to of­fer him­self as a win­ner at the polls and an al­ter­na­tive “to the ‘no-com­pro­mise’ el­e­ment of the Repub­li­can Party.”

Mr. Christie’s de­ci­sion is un­likely to win ac­tive sup­port within the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der (LGBT) lobby.

“I don’t think we’re about to see the LGBT com­mu­nity or­ga­nize to raise funds and ad­vance his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions … be­cause I think he’s go­ing to con­tinue to say that he doesn’t be­lieve in gay mar­riage,” said Ruth Man­del, di­rec­tor of the Ea­gle­ton In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at Rut­gers, the State Univer­sity of New Jersey.

“But I do think there are peo­ple — mod­er­ates, or peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent po­si­tions than his — who will be aware that he is some­body who may op­pose them on is­sues but is not go­ing to en­gage in los­ing bat­tles,” said Ms. Man­del. “He’s not go­ing to stand as an ide­o­log­i­cal purist … in the face of le­gal de­ci­sions that are go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.”

But Mr. Deo said the Repub­li­can base — in par­tic­u­lar so­cial con­ser­va­tives and “val­ues vot­ers” — “is very up­set.”

Mr. Christie “ba­si­cally sur­ren­dered the moral au­thor­ity of the ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity” to an ac­tivist court, even though the U.S. Supreme Court said in its land­mark gay-mar­riage rul­ing this sum­mer that states have the right to de­ter­mine their own mar­riage laws.

Peter Sprigg of the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil praised Mr. Christie for ve­to­ing the gay-mar­riage bill last year and go­ing to court to de­fend the state’s mar­riage law. But his de­ci­sion to fold un­der­cut those ef­forts, Mr. Sprigg said.

“Con­ser­va­tives are look­ing for lead­ers who will sus­tain their com­mit­ment to un­chang­ing prin­ci­ples,” said Mr. Sprigg, se­nior fel­low for pol­icy stud­ies at the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil.

The gay-mar­riage de­ci­sion, along­side Mr. Christie’s de­ci­sion to sign a bill that for­bids New Jersey mi­nors from seek­ing “gay repa­ra­tion” ther­a­pies, gives “con­ser­va­tives se­ri­ous pause about Gov. Christie’s re­li­a­bil­ity,” Mr. Sprigg said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

So­cial con­ser­va­tives blasted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s de­ci­sion to call off the fight against gay mar­riage in his state.

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