Chris Christie is de-fin-i-te-ly running for President in 2016. You know how I know? Because today, not a week after delivering a bad-ass State of the State that made me almost want to move back to Jersey, he elegantly removed himself from the state’s bubbling battle for marriage equality without committing to much anything.
Instead of forcing the issue through the legislature, which he said would eventually meet his veto, he pushed Republicans to put the matter on the next state ballot. If that were to happen, Christie would win no matter the outcome because Christie himself would not be forced to sign or veto anything. He could enter the race knowing that even if his state passed marriage equality during his tenure, he had nothing to do with it, AND the state did so by referendum, considered a “purer” form of democracy.
But it’s risky for the gays, and moreover, incorrect to assume that a referendum would be a purer measure of democracy than a vote by elected representatives. That’s the whole point of electing representatives. To represent you. We also know that, with respect to this issue in particular, the flood of out-of-state money, shamefully false ads, and general corruption of the political process can make popular referendums on marriage equality one of the least purest forms of democracy.
If legislators do vote on the bill, it could very well pass. And then be vetoed by the Governor, and then sent back to the legislature to override the veto with two-thirds of each body. That’s possible.
But, as Dan Amira in the New York Mag notes, the referendum plan is not bound for success:
Three-fifths of each chamber in the legislature must first approve a constitutional amendment if it’s to appear on the ballot this November. That means convincing some anti-gay-marriage legislators to risk the legalization of gay marriage via popular vote, when they know the bill would otherwise die on Christie’s desk. This plan may save Christie’s hide, but what’s in it for them?
A constitutional amendment is no small thing, and even though a majority of registered voters firmly support marriage equality, support inevitably wanes when any issue goes from a “law” to an “amendment”.
So, good luck Garden State Equality. If we go to the ballot, you’ll find me in the Jerz knocking on every damn door.