By Ethan Kisch
Governor Christie has graced our state with some memorable assertions since he entered office in January 2010.
Christie advised the residents of Asbury Park to “Get the hell off the beach,” as Hurricane Irene neared N.J. When a protestor claimed Christie killed jobs in N.J., the Governor “politely” replied, “You know something may go down tonight, but it ain’t gonna be jobs, sweetheart.”
Many New Jerseyans appreciate Chris Christie for his brash and off-the-cuff manner, a style that casts him as a politician not jaded by the formalities of Washington.
He’s the guy you may run into at Dunkin’ Donuts or the guy who lives down the street who is unafraid to say what he thinks. Unfortunately for Christie, the facts of history cannot be stated in the same tough-guy, nuanced way as many of his other classics.
History is history. Even Christie can’t change that.
A few weeks ago, Governor Christie hit us with another classic remark, but this one was far more disturbing than usual. Governor Christie has recently stated, and reaffirmed on multiple occasions — his insistence that the issue of marriage equality should be decided by a referendum to be placed on the ballot in the next election, and not by the normal legislative process. In other terms, the voters of N.J. will vote to allow or disallow same-sex marriage in the same way they vote for one candidate or another.
For those who believe marriage equality is a civil rights issue, this is an unacceptable cop-out by a governor who enjoys painting himself as a bold and independent non-politician-type who loves to make tough decisions. Hiding behind his insistence that the issue be put to a vote allows Christie to shirk an issue that might not sit well with the national Republican electorate (since he is, after all, undoubtedly running for Vice President).
This situation brings to light two issues at hand: Christie’s understanding of history, and marriage equality in N.J.
Christie has repeatedly stated that, as polls seem to show, if the majority of New Jerseyans favor marriage for same-sex couples, proponents of marriage equality should have no problem with a referendum. He backed this up with his own, shall we say, “interesting” historical take on the civil rights movement in the 1960s stating, “The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.”
After defending his own version of history and attempting to cover up his own words in a press conference the next week, the Governor finally hedged the issue by stating, “I didn’t mean to offend anybody, and if I did I’m sorry.” Christie never repealed his statements; he merely regretted the backlash they generated.
Governor Christie compared same-sex marriage to civil rights in the 1960s, a comparison that most advocates for marriage equality have been very careful to avoid. This comparison invites a critical debate.
Surely Christie cannot be against the rights of minorities that were established in the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by acts of Congress.
Christie’s absurd “historical” claim that civil rights leaders would have been pleased with placing their constitutionally guaranteed rights in the hands of a voting constituency which absolutely would not have extended rights to blacks, as support for a modern ballot referendum is simply nonsensical. Consider that women’s suffrage was voted down by N.J. voters in 1915, 58 percent to 42 percent, an interesting precedent for Christie to attempt to follow.
Christie must know that without legislative action as well as peaceful protest “in the streets of the South,” these civil rights would never have been granted.
Whether or not a segment of American society should be granted the civil rights they are guaranteed in the Constitution should not be voted on in a referendum. The prospect of the civil rights of a segment of society being voted on by the rest of society is a scary concept.
Christie should remain true to his self-avowed “bold” ways on tough issues and end his insistence on a referendum.
Make a decision Governor Christie —“man up” as I’m sure you would say. Sign marriage equality into law or veto it, but don’t take the easy way out.
This time, you can create your own history.