October 21, 2013

You may recall that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and I got into a spirited argument last year about his position on same-sex marriage relative to that of President Obama’s. His actions today show I have won the overall argument, but that he won, too.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (John Gress/Reuters)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (John Gress/Reuters)

Yes, at the time of our set-t0, Christie and Obama favored civil unions over marriage equality for same-sex couples. But several actions taken by the president, including no longer defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act against court challenge, contrasted sharply with what Christie had done. When the state legislature sent him a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, he quickly vetoed it. “If only Christie had had the courage to show true leadership when a marriage-equality bill was sitting right in front of him last week,” I wrote in a post after our televised tussle.

By dropping his appeal of the unanimous state supreme court ruling last week that made marriage equality legal in the Garden State as of midnight Monday, Christie is showing a form of that true leadership.

It would have been better had Christie not appealed a lower court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage last month. The court ruled that because DOMA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June, the state’s six-year-old civil unions law is a hindrance to committed same-sex couples enjoying all the federal benefits that accrue from marriage. But Friday’s ruling blocking Christie’s effort to stay the lower court ruling was unanimous and unambiguous.

“The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,” wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. “The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.”

Rather than push the issue to the scheduled January court date, Christie bowed to reality. Rabner “left no ambiguity about the unanimous court’s view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,’ ” the Christie administration announced Monday.

The governor most certainly hurt his presidential chances with those Constitution-loving Republican Party zealots who believe the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law does not extend to loving same-sex couples and their families. But by proactively retracting his appeal, Christie gave voters in his blue state another reason to pull the lever for him in next month’s election.

Dropping the appeal did something else. It was an exhibition of the kind of leadership more national aspirants in the GOP would do well to emulate. Denying those couples the rights and responsibilities that come with civil marriage, denying anyone the full benefits of the American Dream, is not a winning strategy.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.