I can't help but chuckle watching the public spat between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg over which state has the real claim to the Super Bowl-playing New York Giants. Christie points out that the team plays and trains in the Garden State.
There has always been a "friendly rivalry" between the two states, with New Jersey the perennial "ugly step-sister" to the more powerful New York. Conservative Republican pundit Ann Coulter is so smitten with Christie, she desperately wanted the GOP to pick him as their 2012 presidential Cinderella. Christie said no to that glass slipper, smartly invoking the Peter Principle, and is out campaigning for not-so-darling Prince Charming Mitt Romney. Some wonder if "the moment" has now passed Christie by or whether he has a better, clearer shot at 2016 with an open presidential field. If the latter, much rides on his performance going forward.
And that's why what Christie does now on the movement to secure marriage rights for same sex couples - and the rivalry with Bloomberg - is so important. Like Bloomberg, Christie is independent-minded. But unlike the New York mayor, the New Jersey governor not only opposes same sex marriage but has promised to veto any marriage bill that reaches his desk. Additionally, he wants the issue to go before the people in a referendum ballot. Gay City News reported last January that Christie is accusing Democratic legislators of treating "hundreds of years of societal and religious tradition" like "a political football."
CHRISTIE: If the majority of the people want [same-sex marriage] prove it. Put it on the ballot, let it be voted on....I've told every Republican in the state legislator to vote to put it on the ballot. They need three-fifths to put it on the ballot. The Republicans have two-fifths in the legislature. So that means the Democrats only need to come up with one-fifth of the legislature...this is the bargain of your life. I'm giving you two-fifths! And the polls they show me say that if it goes on the ballot, it will lose. How much more magnanimous can I be? What else do you want me to do? Go campaign for it too? Look, I'm doing the best I can here!
In some ways, Christie is more like the GOP's 2004 flavor of the year California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - who twice vetoed marriage bills passed by the state legislature and earned a national reputation for his smart-aleck quips (remember "girlie-men?"). But unlike bombastic Gov. Arnold, Christie apologized to anybody who was "offended" after he went too far with one comment. On Jan. 24, Christie reacted to Democratic leaders who said that same sex marriage is a civil right and shouldn't be put up for a vote by the majority by saying: "People would have been happy with a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South."
Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) flew to New Jersey's capital in Trenton, where 13.7% of the residents are African American, to respond:
"Apparently, the governor of this state has not read his recent history books," Lewis said, noting that "most of the governors...were outright segregationists....I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up and speak out against discrimination based on sexual orientation."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker also slammed Christie: “Dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote, subject to the sentiments and the passions of the day…This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for....Frankly, I wouldn't be where I am today" if states had voted on civil rights."
Even with the apology to those who might have been offended, Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute told Business Week that Christie's brash remark may have hurt him with some in the black community who have long memories.
"It's possible that he's gone off the rails a bit too much," Murray said. "His allies on education reform in the African-American community could become upset by his continued statements....The bigger issue is his political future on the national level and whether this is going to go into someone's vault to be used at some point in an attack ad."
Gay City News' Duncan Osborne wrote an excellent follow up report citing an NAACP official who fought a 1964 ballot initiative targeting a nondiscrimination housing law in Seattle: "When you are dealing with rights granted by our Constitution there is no such thing as 'majority rules.' The Constitution grants rights to minorities, and the majority should not be able to vote down these rights."
Osborne also did some digging and found that in the late 1950s, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the major heroes of World War II, and GOP Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen:
agreed civil rights do not make, in Ike's words, "a very good subject for a referendum." Dirksen stated, "I'm not going to pass the buck to the people back home and say, 'I'm thinking about the next election.' And they would say, 'Haven't you got any guts to stand up under the Constitution of the United States?'"
New Jersey pollster Murray noted that the Romney campaign "doesn't want to bring Christie anywhere that [gay marriage] may be an issue....You don't want him on a national stage when this has been such a big issue. It certainly puts him on the sidelines for a while." Given the Mormon Church’s history with African Americans, the Romney campaign might not want Christie around to muddy the waters on race even further.
While Christie was on the sidelines nationally, the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 5-2 to pass the fast-moving marriage equality legislation, with two Democrats changing their minds and voting yes.
New Jersey Democratic Assemblymember Ralph Caputo on the right (Photo via PolitckerNJ)
Chairman Peter Barnes, (D-18), Edison, and Ralph Caputo, (D-28), Nutley, both reversed their previously held positions to release the bill from committee.
Barnes said he is leaning towards voting in favor of A1 when it comes before the full body; Caputo said he has already made his choice.
"All of us have our ideas about this particular issue," Caputo said. "I think people have changed their mind (since) when this legislation was first proposed, specifically me."
He said "prejudice (against homosexuals) was prevalent" in his day, but times have changed.
"I see this as a moment of truth to deal with this issue face to face," Caputo said. "I'm very optimistic about the future of this legislation."
Barnes said it was the job of legislators to "tackle the difficult issues, whether we agree or disagree," and his Catholic faith had put Barnes at odds with this issue.
"As a Catholic, as a person who does try to follow my faith, I really struggled with this over the past (few) years," he said. "Tradition has not always been good, and it has not always been fair. Tradition can't control our vote."
"I will absolutely be voting for this out of committee today, and I am absolutely leaning in favor of voting for this on the floor," Barnes said. "The civil union is not working...I don't think reasonable minds can even disagree on that."
Towleroad posted videos of the testimony before New Jersey's House Judiciary Committee of two people passionate about the A 1 bill.
“I do have to say that New Jersey has made me feel discriminated, like I’m some sort of outcast. But guess what New Jersey? I’m no outcast. I am Madison Galluccio, and I am part of the Galluccio family. My parents will be married, and I will make sure that this happens till the day that I die. So please, will you help me? Help me feel equal. We aren’t different. I’m not different. And I shouldn’t have to be forced to feel like I’m different. This is my family, and I want us to be able to have the same rights as you. So NJ, please give me my freedom.”
Greg Quinlan, president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) argued that:
“Homosexuality is not a civil right. Civil rights are based on innateness, whether or not you were born that way. To date, there is zero evidence that anyone is born a homosexual. Zero. In fact it’s homosexual researchers and scientists that are proving that homosexuality is not innate and has no biological ideology. Homosexuality is not immutable. People do change. People have a right of self-determination. They can choose to change from being gay to straight. Why can’t they choose to change from being straight to gay?
“People do it all the time. There are many ex-gays. Anne Heche, to name one. Sinead O’Connor. And myself. I left the homosexual lifestyle almost 20 years ago. Lived as a homosexual activist for 10 years of my life. I’m a registered nurse. I watched 100 of my friends and acquaintances die of AIDS before I stopped counting. I’ve seen lots of things but homosexuality does not deserve to be codified or recognized as marriage in any state.”
"I want to talk first of all about something I heard from the very beginning by people of this Legislature that we are bigots as people of faith, because we do not hold that homosexual marriage should be codified. That somehow we are bigots and we are ideologues because we are people of faith. I want to address that hate. Everyone in this room who is a person of faith deserves an apology from one of the sponsors of this bill for calling us bigots."
Meanwhile, State Senate President Steve Sweeney announced that the Democratic-controlled Legislature would not pass legislation to allow for a referendum. "It's time for everyone, from the governor to the chattering observers, to stop talking about a marriage equality referendum in terms of 'if,'" Sweeney said "There will be no referendum on marriage equality in New Jersey, period." A full Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 13.
That leaves the veto. Pro-gay California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the two marriage bills at the suggestion of his openly gay chief of staff Susan Kennedy because it would ostensibly violate the "will of the people" as expressed in the 2000 voter-passed initiative Prop 22. Christie doesn't have that kind of backstop, presumably which is why he called the referendum "democracy in action."
But some pundits are beginning to question his understanding of history and politics on that matter, too.
The last I heard the legislature is "the people" and its actions should represent the will of the electorate.
More importantly, the Governor's ploy isn't democracy in action, it's simply that old used car salesman trick - bait and switch.
If we are going to govern California style - where direct ballot measures often play a bigger role in governing than does the legislature that its people are paying to govern - then why bother with having a legislature at all?
The will of the people as expressed by the votes of their representatives should be sufficient to satiate Gov. Christie's thirst to only do that which reflects the will of the people......
Same-sex marriage advocates have done exactly what conservatives used to say they wanted. They have engaged state legislatures individually, in a grassroots movement that is slowly transforming and unifying the country's stand on this issue.
Governor Christie and his conservative supporters are not satisfied with the way government is working for their perceived adversaries.
In New Jersey, that action by the Governor is bait and switch. When the will of the people is expressed by the Legislature in a way the Governor and his colleagues don't like, switch from the will of the people expressed by their representatives to the will of the people acting directly at the ballot box.
And if direct government authorizes same-sex marriage, then what? Beg the vilified judicial system for relief?
In all events, the Governor's current ploy is an objectionable and expedient one that doesn't deserve to have the word "leadership" associated with it.
Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality
Gay City News reported that Steven Goldstein, the chair of Garden State Equality, New Jersey's LGBT advocacy group, has said, "Our entire plan this go-round has included the assumption of a veto. We have a methodical plan: First pass the bill. Then endure the veto. Then work on an override vote." However, the paper notes, "Democrats hold 24 of 40 seats in the Senate and 46 of the 76 Assembly seats currently occupied. Both margins fall short of the percentage needed to override a veto."
That means Garden Equality and the bill's sponsors are going to have to depend on Republicans to help override the expected Christie veto.
A veto of the marriage bill might put him back in the public good graces of the anti-gay marriage Romney camp - for which he raised $1.6 million in the last three months of December, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. That means "86 cents of every dollar donated to a Republican candidate in New Jersey went to Romney."
Although New York’s legislators were already disposed to approving gay marriage because of the more progressive disposition of the state and a major grassroots campaign in support of the bill, LGBT activists from both parties turned to a simple, poignant argument: Lawmakers not only stood to gain the support of well-funded gay-rights supporters if they backed the bill, they would suffer if they opposed it or shied away from the spotlight.
“I didn’t come in there saying, ‘Do this for me,’” recalled Ken Mehlman, the openly gay former RNC chairman who persuaded Republican lawmakers in Albany that there was not only political support but ideological consistency in backing the bill. “I said, ‘Do this for you.’ We didn’t walk in there saying, ‘Do this not only because it is the right thing from a policy perspective.’ We were saying, ‘It is the right thing to build the party from a political perspective.’”
The politics of gay rights have grown complex in a very short period of time. Once shunned by both parties, only to be picked up as a cause by more progressive-minded Democrats, LGBT issues no longer break down cleanly among the party lines.
Increasingly, a cadre of deep-pocketed Republican donors is joining in the charge. And the enticements they are using to sway lawmakers are not just conservative arguments for civil liberties or public opinion polls that show a generational divide on gay rights, but the promise of contributions or other forms of political support.
These are not quid-pro-quos, necessarily, though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was fond of telling on-the-fence lawmakers that a yes vote would give them access to deep coffers. Rather, the LGBT community — often splintered into disparate factions with contrasting strategic visions — has turned itself into a political heavyweight, equipped with an impassioned grassroots movement to compliment a growing fundraising stream.
Adam Umhoefer, with AFER board members Chad H. Griffin, Michele Reiner, Rob Reiner, Ken Mehlman, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan D. Lewis, Dustin Lance Black at the Broadway premier of the play '8' about the Prop 8 federal court trial (Photo via the American Foundation for Equal Rights)
How would Christie's major donors feel about going up against Ken Mehlman, Paul Singer and other wealthy conservative Republicans interested in passing marriage equality? Or would Christie base his political fortunes on the deep pockets Mormon Church backers – millionaire Mitt Romney's tax returns show he tithes 10% of his earnings to the Mormon Church each year.
Or how would Christie feel being tied and beholden to the National Organization for Marriage - whose request he ignored when appointing an openly gay Republican to the New Jersey State Supreme Court? NOM is very Catholic-centered. Would they pressure him to support the latest Catholic political policy on contraception?
The Catholic Church reacted strongly Friday to a White House defense of new rules that will force many religious employers to provide contraception to their workers in government-mandated health insurance plans.
“The White House information about this is a combination of misleading and wrong,” said Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the bishops would “pursue every legal mandate available to them to bring an end to this mandate. That means legislation, litigation and public advocacy. All options are on the table.”
The new regulations were announced last month by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of an effort to guarantee that women receive free “preventive” healthcare services, including cervical cancer screening, breast pumps -- and contraception. They require employers to include those services in their employee health insurance plans by August.
With such high religious priorities at stake, it is logical to assume that conservative political pros like Karl Rover will pour millions into the state to manipulate the public into insisting on a referendum based on the made-up but successful political concepts of religious liberty and parental rights.
One might assume that even if he disagrees with Bloomberg on who gets to claim the New York Giants, it is unlikely that Christie would wager on the New England Patriots. The question now is: Will Gov. Christie bet with or against Bloomberg, New York State, the "will of the people" in the great state of New Jersey as expressed through their legislature and the trend of history towards full equality for gay people? Or does Christie believe his political future in 2016 lies with Mitt Romney, NOM, the Catholic and Mormon churches and their antigay culture war?
Which people do you think Christie will listen to?