Last month a judge in New Jersey ruled that the state must start authorizing same-sex marriages. Gov. Chris Christie’s administration appealed the ruling, asking for a delay; that delay only lasted until this weekend. As Sen.-elect Cory Booker officiated gay weddings, as Christie’s doomed opponent Barbara Buono grasped for momentum from this issue, Christie caved: He has withdrawn the appeal. Map-makers and gay couples rejoice: There’s now an unbroken line of legal gay marriage from the Canadian border down the East Coast and terminating in southeast Maryland. Marriage equality, from Halifax to Salisbury!
What were the politics of this, 15 days out from an election? Actually, pretty simple for Christie. The Democrats’ focus on gay marriage had grown intense, as it was one of the last issues on which Christie read as a right-winger out of touch with the state. “Time and time again he stood against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by vetoing marriage equality,” said Buono at a weekend rally with Booker. “He basically said you’re second-class citizens!”
This was an unpopular position, but not one that hurt Christie. Democrats sort of expected his tyrannosauric lead to shrink as their base came home, but the last Quinnipiac poll (one of those showing supermajority support for gay marriage) put Christie 29 points over Buono. If marriage was hurting Christie, it wasn’t showing up in public polls. But anything that hurt his margin, and by extension his potential coattails for Republicans in legislative races, was more damaging to Christie’s future than a cave on gay marriage. The Republican primary votes who’ll meet the governor in 2015 will already assume he’s more moderate than they are.