The tough-guy bravado wears ever thinner over time but I don’t blame him for being irritated at a smear this nasty. He wants to hold a referendum on gay marriage and therefore he’s … George Wallace? What?

The punchline is that Christie’s pushing the referendum not because he’s militantly opposed to gays getting married and thinks the popular vote will vindicate his position but because he’s not militantly opposed and doesn’t want to be forced to issue a veto. Watch the second clip below from last summer’s chat with Piers Morgan for the basics of his thinking. He believes marriage should be for straights only but wants equal rights for gays otherwise and won’t even commit to the belief that homosexuality is sinful. He sounds, in fact, a lot like Obama in his lack of conviction for his supposed position. His problem is that if the New Jersey legislature passes a bill legalizing gay marriage, then Christie the blue-state governor and Christie the potential Republican VP have a conflict on whether he should veto or not. The cynical solution: Punt the issue entirely by encouraging a referendum instead. If it fails, great! The people have spoken. If it passes, oh well. Not his fault. It’s not a show of principle but it’s not Christie standing in the chapel door either. (The possibility that he might have to cast this veto doubtless helps explain why he just appointed a gay Republican to the New Jersey Supreme Court.)

That said, I’d like to see the language of the referendum he has in mind. Is he proposing to let the public amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage or to specifically legalize gay marriage or to decide on both questions? His critics are hammering him for encouraging a majoritarian solution to a question of equal protection, which of course is not the way constitutional rights work. But gay-marriage supporters have been perfectly comfortable using democratic means to advance their own position, most famously last year when the New York legislature passed gay marriage. That statute is different from what Christie has in mind with a referendum — the latter would take the issue out of the courts’ hands via a constitutional amendment whereas the statute is subject to judicial review — but if the referendum is limited purely to whether to legalize gay marriage (without saying anything about banning it), then the courts could still consider the equal protection claim later on even if the referendum fails. Curious to know how Christie, who seems not terribly invested in the idea of keeping gays from marrying, feels about that.