Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and I got into a rather animated discussion on “Morning Joe” today about the “courage” he displayed on the issue of same-sex marriage in New Jersey. You may recall that when the duly elected representatives of the people of the Garden State voted to approve marriage equality last week, Christie vetoed the bill and then said he would put the civil rights of gay men and lesbians up for a referendum. That’s not courage. That’s shameful.

I was sitting off-set scribbling my earlier piece on Rick Santorum when I heard Christie, who supports civil unions, say, “I have the exact same position as the president.” And he agreed with host Joe Scarborough’s assessment that he is called a bigot and President Obama is called enlightened simply because Christie is a Republican. “[T]he Democrats in my state are criticizing me, saying my feet are firmly planted on the wrong side of justice. I said yesterday, ‘Yeah, my feet are firmly planted right next to President Obama.’ And they don’t criticize him.” Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski, seeing me tear my hair out (metaphorically speaking), then brought me into the conversation.

Christie has a point. He and Obama both support civil unions. But there are several reasons Obama isn’t criticized as much as Christie.

Yes, Obama is in favor of civil unions. And he has caught hell from the gay community for saying repeatedly that his position on same-sex marriage is “evolving.” Heck, The Post and the New York Times have urged the president to evolve already. But let me point out the differences between Obama and Christie and why Christie fails to meet his own “courage” test.

The state legislature handed Christie a bill that would have made New Jersey the eighth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. He had the opportunity right then and there to show true courage and leadership by signing it into law. Instead, he punted. Obama has had no such opportunity to affix his signature to such historic legislation. Saying flat-out “I’m for gay marriage” would be high on symbolism and moral persuasion. But it would be low on real impact. Instead, the president has taken real actions that fly in the face of Christie’s criticism.

The Obama administration declared a year ago today that it viewed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional and therefore would no longer defend it in court. Obama has vocally supported the state-by-state efforts to allow gay and lesbian couples to enjoy the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. And he has even thrown his support behind S.598. That’s the Respect for Marriage Act sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would repeal DOMA.

In short, the president is using whatever power he has to do right by gay men and lesbian couples who want to marry. Remember, this is a democracy, not a monarchy or a dictatorship, despite what you hear from some in the Republican Party. If Congress were to put the Feinstein bill on Obama’s desk he’d sign 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.