The New York Times gives an unusually laudatory review (on the front page, no less) of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political abilities:

In proposing a ballot question to let voters decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey argued this week that the issue was “too serious to be treated like a political football.”

But his moves on same-sex marriage have also highlighted the considerable political skills that have made him one of the Republican Party’s rising stars.

Democrats in the State Legislature, who are pushing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, were hoping to force Mr. Christie to take a position, believing that if he vetoed such a measure, as he has threatened in the past, he would define himself as out of step with a public that increasingly favors it.

But on Monday, the day before a big hearing on the legislation, Mr. Christie nominated an openly gay man to the state’s highest court, prompting a valentine from New Jersey’s most prominent gay-rights advocate that stunned even some of the governor’s friends for its effusiveness.

The Times’ praise doesn't stop there: “He has made alliances with the state’s Democratic power bosses and appealed to the fiscal conservatism and impatience with teachers’ unions among crucial Democrats to get the Democratic-controlled Legislature to go along with a property tax cap, limits on collective bargaining and changes to state employees’ health and pension benefits.” Should he be the GOP’s VP pick, I’m sure all of this will be rethought and recast.

But getting back to gay marriage, Christie is himself opposed to the idea. However, in sending the matter to a vote by the public in a deep blue state he knows full well that the liberal voters could approve it. Conservatives who believe in keeping the judiciary out of social policy and support 10th Amendment principles would then find it challenging to take issue with a popular mandate. When the issue is judicial imposition of gay marriage against popular will, conservatives can claim the high ground; with state referenda they find themselves in a bind.

And here is where anti-gay-marriage advocates run into a political cul-de-sac. If dozens of states follow New Jersey’s lead and pro-gay-marriage referenda pass across the country, what are they to do then, and, more important, what’s the “solution”?

Well, gay-marriage opponents say a constitutional amendment could spare states from having gay marriage foisted against them via the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution. I’ll leave for another day the very weighty argument that states can protect themselves by declaring gay marriage to be against public policy. But more to the point, if a significant number of states are passing gay marriage provisions, where are the anti-gay-marriage forces supposed to come up with the states needed to approve an amendment?

It is for this reason that some conservatives are reaching the conclusion that in a generation the gay-marriage debate will be settled, not by courts or by constitutional amendment, but by democracy. New Jersey and other states will tell us whether “traditional” marriage advocates have in essence lost the argument.