By MC Bousquette
The state that Springsteen and Bon Jovi call home is the latest to join the march toward marriage equality. On Friday, September 27th, New Jersey Judge Mary C. Jacobson ruled that the state must allow same-sex marriage. The case on which she ruled was brought to court by six same-sex couples seeking federal benefits, achievable only through marriage. In her decision, Jacobson stated, “The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts.” The decision has ramifications not only for same-sex couples in New Jersey, but also Governor Christie. The major political question now facing Governor Christie is whether, after having been repeatedly bashed for his work with President Obama, the Governor stands a chance in an increasingly radical GOP? His future candidacy could very well hinge on his response to this ruling.
New Jersey isn’t the first state to settle in favor of same-sex marriage via the court system. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that, in order to provide same-sex couples equal protection, marriage must be granted to same-sex couples. The 2003 legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts was the result of a similar decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
What is, however, so significant about this decision is that it marks the first time a state judiciary has struck down its own state’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriage based on this year’s Supreme Court ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. “Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution,” the decision reads. The use of United States v. Windsor as precedent for the ruling in this case has potential to open doors for same-sex couples in other states filing similar suits.
This ruling goes directly against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Governor Christie vetoed a same-sex marriage bill in his state last year. Christie is expected to fight this ruling immediately; his office has already stated that it will appeal the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. This is all contingent on whether the state attorney general’s office will choose to oppose the ruling, although as defendants in the suit, they likely will proceed with the appeal.
Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, clarified the reasoning behind pursuit of an appeal; “Governor Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day. Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.”
It seems as if Governor Christie is trying to appease two contingencies here: the moderates and the far right. He has to support the choice of New Jerseyans, but since this ruling came outside of the legislature, he can argue that he is fighting against judicial activism. In three years, Christie will be in a somewhat strong position say that he opposed both judicial activism and the decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Depending on the strength of his messaging and spin, and of course the ultimate decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Christie’s opposition to the ruling could be the political save he needs.
The legalization of same-sex marriage via judicial ruling in New Jersey poses an interesting dilemma for the Governor, who many expect to vie for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election. If the 2016 race is in any way similar to that of 2012, this new development could ultimately sink Christie’s campaign on social issues. In 2012, moderate social politics won no Republican candidate favor. Candidates rushed to the right on social issues, and made significant effort to endorse a “pro-family” (read: pro-heterosexual marriage) agenda. With players such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio growing louder and louder in discussions of candidate hypothesizing for 2016, it does seem that social conservatism is here to stay for at least the next election cycle.
Same-sex marriages in New Jersey could begin as soon as October 21st, assuming Governor Christie doesn’t seek a stay. As this is a relatively low possibility, same-sex marriage in New Jersey may be further down the line, depending on the speed of New Jersey’s Supreme Court in addressing the appeal. If Governor Christie is truly serious about throwing his hat in the ring for 2016, one should expect to see his office mount a tremendous battle against this decision.