Despite his bromance with President Obama and Prince Harry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in a pickle. One one hand, he’s a conservative governor elected in a traditionally blue state, which gives some plausibility for messaging (horrible word) that he’s moderate, and that’s significant. Because unless something very strange happens, he’s going to run for President in 2016, and “moderate” is the holy grail in presidential elections. Yet he is profoundly out of sync with almost two-thirds of New Jersey voters and more than half of voters nationwide because of his opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.
Last year, Christie vetoed a marriage equality bill, saying that the issue should be put to a referendum. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, however, a new lawsuit has been filed in New Jersey to challenge the constitutionality of its civil union-style system as intrinsically unequal to marriage. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the ban on gay marriage in 2006 contingent on there being an equal system for gay couples. (Lewis v. Harris) Advocates are hoping that the court might now be willing to order the state to extend access to marriage to gays as well as straights.
Governor Christie is probably secretly praying for that to happen because it would short-circuit legislative efforts to adopt marriage equality, and avoid forcing him into another confrontation with the legislature, when he would have to use the veto power again. He has no chance of winning the Republican nomination for president if he is soft on gay marriage, but the more he plays the tough guy, the more likely he is to irritate New Jersey voters and attract gay dollars into this year’s state elections. Concerted gay contributions to obscure state politicians in New York state flipped the state senate, and eventually led to enactment of marriage equality. In New Jersey, those dollars might secure a Democratic majority in both chambers that is large enough to override a veto or even diminish the margin in what observers expect to be an easy re-election victory for Christie himself. What a headache.
Across the river, Pennsylvania is another site for a post-Windsor lawsuit. State attorney general Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, has just declared that her office will not defend the constitutionality of the state’s ban on gay marriage. Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, will have to turn to lawyers in the office of governor’s counsel to defend the state’s version of DoMA. Unless Corbett is ready to resign from the Republican Party, he will do that.
It is a truism in politics that every state attorney general is a future candidate for governor. Assuming that Pennsylvania AG Kane is not an exception, she has obviously calculated that support for gay marriage will not hurt her enough to outweigh the political gains. (Though Pennsylvania is generally blue in presidential elections, it has a Republican governor, Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, and no state-wide anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people even in employment.) The next gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania is next year, and the incumbent will presumably seek re-election. If Kane is his challenger, gay marriage will be an issue.
Whoever said that Supreme Court decisions necessarily shut down the political process as to intense social issues was so very wrong…