In the darkness of Monday morning, moments after midnight, same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey, and a number of couples became husband and husband, or wife and wife.
Media attention focused on Newark’s City Hall, where Mayor Cory Booker performed his first marriage. Since taking office in 2006, the mayor had not officiated at any weddings, declining to marry anyone until he could marry everyone.
That changed when he told Joseph Panessidi and Orville Bell: “I now by the power vested in me – thank God – by the state of New Jersey – it’s about time – I declare Joseph and Orville to be lawful spouses in the state of New Jersey. You may kiss your spouse.”
After the men kissed, Booker added, “You may hug your mayor.” And they did.
Booker, a charismatic Democrat in New Jersey who was elected last week to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg, performed the same service for six other same-sex couples and two heterosexual couples.
Then in the light of day something happened that was perhaps even more surprising than the ruling in late September by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson that the state’s denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. Gov. Chris Christie, a charismatic Republican who had vetoed a bill passed by the legislature that would have made gay marriage legal, decided to drop his administration’s appeal of Jacobson’s ruling.
Who doesn’t love a wedding? Could it be that the governor had been so moved that he had decided to drop his court challenge?
“I think he watched loving and committed couples get married,” Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, told WCBS television. “I think he watched the love on display. I think he saw how much they care for each other.”
Perhaps. But the statement issued by the Christie administration was not so tender.
“Chief Justice 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 statement said. “Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law.”
Could Christie, who is hardly known for backing down from fights, be taking a page from Dale Carnegie’s book? In “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Carnegie wrote, “By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.”
In this case, Christie has a lot to gain by yielding. He is running for re-election and even though the polls show him holding a big lead over Democrat Barbara Buono, continuing to press his opposition to same-sex marriage would put him at odds with the majority of New Jerseyans. A poll released Monday by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University found that 61 percent of New Jersey voters support same-sex marriage, 27 percent oppose it and 12 percent are undecided. Even among Republicans, the poll found, 49 percent support gay marriage, while 37 percent oppose it.
Dropping the appeal also keeps Christie from being pitted against Booker less than a week after they stood side-by-side at the groundbreaking for the Springfield Avenue Marketplace in Newark, touting their ability to work together to get things done. Being directly at odds with each other would not serve the aspirations of either of the two highest-profile New Jersey politicians.
But the real advantage could come if Christie runs for president, which Buono says in her campaign ads he is already doing. He will be able to tell conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage that he fought the fight. He can also tell supporters of gay marriage that he didn’t stand in the way once same-sex marriages had begun.
So even if Christie’s decision was a last-minute wedding gift for same-sex couples, he still winds up catching the bouquet.