Two years ago, a marriage equality bill failed 20-14 in the New Jersey state senate. This year, senate Democrats have made same-sex marriage a priority, and claim they have the votes they need to pass it this time. But even if the Senate and Assembly both pass the bill, there's one, ahem, big problem: Governor Chris Christie. Christie, a supporter of civil unions, has repeatedly promised to veto it.
While that's not surprising for someone who may run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, it's a decision that comes with its own political risks. According to a recent Quinnipiac survey, gay marriage is now backed by a majority of registered voters in the Garden State, 52-42. When Christie is up for reelection in 2013, that gradually rising support will have grown even more. Christie and his veto pen are on the right side of the issue as far as the national GOP electorate is concerned, but he's on the wrong side of the issue with New Jersey voters.
Today, Christie proposed a solution that would get him out of this pickle:
Gov. Chris Christie called today for the Legislature to put on the fall ballot a voter referendum on whether to legalize gay marriage, which Democratic lawmakers have made a top priority.
If successful, the referendum would amend the state Constitution and trump the current civil unions law. He urged all Republicans in the Legislature to put the matter to voters, but promised to veto the measure if it came to him in the form of a bill.
"I think this is not an issue that should rest solely in my hands, or the hands of the Senate President or the Speaker or the other 118 members of the Legislature," he said. "Let's let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state."
In other words: Put it on the ballot, and leave me out of it. Making this vision a reality won't be so easy for Christie, though. Three-fifths of each chamber in the legislature must first approve a constitutional amendment if it's to appear on the ballot this November. That means convincing some anti-gay-marriage legislators to risk the legalization of gay marriage via popular vote, when they know the bill would otherwise die on Christie's desk. This plan may save Christie's hide, but what's in it for them?