On Monday, the Christie administration withdrew its appeal to overturn a lower court ruling ordering the state to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples by October 21st.
The move to drop the appeal came after the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously denied a stay of the order. New Jersey was previously one of four states that allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, but not legally wed.
In denying the stay, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that "the Court could not find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges that disadvantaged committed same-sex couples."
In a press release Monday, Christie's office stated: "Although the Governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law. The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court."
During his 2009 gubernatorial campaign, Christie said he was against gay marriage, but would be in favor of putting the issue on the ballot. After the New Jersey legislature passed a bill enacting same-sex marriage last year, Christie vetoed it, even after several Republicans pledged to help override his veto.
So Christie’s abrupt about-face has sparked reaction on both sides of the political spectrum.
Openly gay Democrat Assemblyman Tim Eustace, who represents parts of Bergen County in Northern New Jersey, told CNSNews.com that he believes “the governor sees the Supreme Court is in full support of this, so that seems to be the direction it’s going….It’s good; hopefully he sees that all citizens of New Jersey deserve the same rights.”
Eustace added that while dropping the appeal was a victory for gay marriage supporters, it is not the number one issue for him or his constituents. “People that know me…are congratulating me, but marriage equality certainly isn’t the big issue for people right now. The kitchen table issues are, of course, jobs and taxes.”
Republican State Senator Michael Doherty, who represents Hunterdon and Warren Counties in northwestern New Jersey, told CNSNews.com that he is is “disappointed” that the govenor withdrew his appeal before opponents of same-sex marriage could make their case.
“We’re supposed to have the opportunity for parties to be heard, to have their day in court, and that’s not going to take place, so I am very disappointed,” he said.
Referring to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll that found 61 percent of New Jerseyans in support of same-sex marriage, with just 27 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure, Doherty acknowledged that it would have likely been passed at the ballot box anyway, but said he still wanted the state to follow the correct process.
“I would have preferred to have it go on the ballot, and frankly, there would’ve been a good chance, even though I’m a strong supporter of traditional marriage, I think it may have passed… Really what this is, is just opening the door for future shenanigans. Every time there’s a contentious issue, is it okay not to follow the process and do an end run around the constitution and the law? I don’t think so. So everybody in New Jersey should be ticked off how this transpired.”
But Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at The Family Research Council, cautions that poll results vary according to how the questions are phrased.
“What we found on a national level is that people tend to respond favorably to polls that frame it as an issue of rights or equality and so forth, the way that same-sex marriage advocates try to frame it. But when you frame it in what we believe is the correct way, as an issue of the definition of marriage, and ask people if marriage should be defined as the union of one man and one woman, we actually find that a majority of Americans still believe in that traditional definition of marriage.”
Sprigg added that Christie’s decision not to appeal runs contrary to Republicans’ desire to fight on other important key issues, such as Obamacare.
“I think we see conservatives fighting very hard on a lot of tough issues like Obamacare, where there’s a position of no compromise and they lost it in the House, lost it in the Senate, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court and people are still fighting because they know it’s bad for the country,” Sprigg told CNSNews.com. “So would redefining marriage be bad for our states and for the country, and I think people should continue to fight it rather than just say “‘well, it looks like the court’s against it, so we might as well hang it up.”
Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, the former New Jersey Democratic Party chairman who represents parts of Central New Jersey, called the appeal withdrawal “pure political calculation” on Christie’s part, and attributed the move to the governor’s plan to run for president in 2016. “He saw the court was gonna go against him and he didn’t wanna face an override and as a result, it was time to cash in his chips on the issue.”
Eustace agrees, saying he believes that “everything is Machiavellian and designed to make it easier for him to run for president.”
When Cryan was asked whether or not Christie might be making a bid for higher office, he replied, “Absolutely. I don’t live in his head, but every move sure points to it.”
However, Sprigg notes that Christie is now in “the ironic position of alienating both sides.”
"I don’t know that the liberals are necessarily going to forgive him for [the veto] simply because he dropped the appeal," he noted. "But conservatives, I think, are going to be very disappointed with this as we were disappointed with his decision to sign the bill barring sexual orientation change efforts for minors a few months ago. So he’s alienated social conservatives as well."