Our story comes to us from the Garden State. Say it with me now… we’ve seen this movie before.
A state judge today ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey, saying gay couples would be denied federal benefits if the state kept allowing only civil unions.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granted an emergency request by six gay couples, ordering state officials to begin officiating same-sex marriages on Oct. 21.
“Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey constitution,” the judge wrote in a 53-page opinion.
New Jersey’s history with same-sex marriage has been rather… complicated, to say the least. But then, when it comes to politics, everything in Jersey winds up being complicated. On the surface it looks like a stereotypical, liberal blue state. Our friend Fausta – a resident of the Garden State – once described New Jersey as being sharply divided in its politics between liberal Democrats and really liberal Democrats. And yet they somehow keep managing to elect Republicans on a fairly regular basis. (Their own brand of Republicans, true, but still…)
Of course, this puts Governor Chris Christie, himself in the midst of a reelection bid and continually in the media spotlight as a potential 2016 candidate, in a bit of a sticky spot. He’s been walking a typical line on the subject for some time now, insisting that gay marriage is a state rather than federal question, and that he would support it only if it was the will of the voters of his state, choosing instead to back civil unions. In fact, he vetoed a bill legalizing gay marriage last year, so he was clearly going to have to jump into this one. And sure enough, he fired off an immediate response.
But Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes gay marriage, vowed today to appeal the ruling all the way to the state Supreme Court.
“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,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. “Since the Legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.”
This is pretty much in line with everything Christie has done and said on the subject to date. If he wasn’t willing to accept a bill passed by the legislature, preferring instead to call for a statewide referendum, he was hardly going to jump on board with a directive from a single judge. And this wasn’t even a federal level ruling. The judge in question is a Mercer County superior court judge. And while it’s not illegal for a judge at that level to issue such a ruling, it was obvious from the moment it happened that this was going to get bounced up the chain.
Exit question time. Assume for a moment – particularly given the left leaning nature of the government system in Jersey – that this decision is challenged, put on hold, and heard all the way up to the State Supreme Court and is upheld. Is this Chris Christie’s golden ticket out of tight spot in terms of the 2016 primary race? In that scenario, the state winds up with gay marriage and the Left-leaning majority is appeased. It becomes, “settled law” in the state and the matter is taken off the Governor’s plate. But when it comes up in the primary, Christie has a built-in answer.
“Hey, I fought it every step of the way. I even vetoed the only bill to reach my desk. But the darned activist judges did an end around on me.”
Far fetched? Or the Best Thing Evah for the Governor?
Update: (Jazz) Doug has a collection of legal beagle opinions on this at Outside the Beltway, including some which seem to indicate that the judge may be running beyond her limits here.