On Oct. 21, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rightly dropped his legal challenge to the State Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, solidifying New Jersey’s status as the 14th state to legalize gay marriage. Christie, who is shaping up to be a 2016 presidential candidate, has the potential to help the ailing Republican Party.
In years past, Christie has repeatedly voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage. When the Democrat-run state legislature passed a bill granting same-sex couples equal marriage rights in February 2012, he quickly vetoed it. Now, by lifting his challenge to the court’s ruling, Christie is not altering his stance on LGBTQ rights, but rather he is recognizing that he was fighting a losing battle.
While civil rights advocates in New Jersey are probably happy there are no more hurdles standing between LGBTQ couples and marriage, Christie’s announcement stopped far short of an endorsement. A Christie spokesperson announced at a press conference yesterday morning, “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.”
Should Christie decide to run in 2016, his decision to drop his opposition to the law has the possibility of making social issues a divisive topic in the Republican primaries. With over 59 percent of Republicans still opposed to same-sex marriage, his latest move will certainly anger social conservatives, who could be a crucial bloc in a 2016 run.
Republicans have lost the last two elections in part because their appeal to the core conservative base alienated other groups. If they are to win the next election, the Republicans must recognize that the country has significantly evolved on social issues. A recent poll shows that 53 percent of Americans now favor gay marriage, whereas just 10 years ago, the majority opposed it.
Christie has a fine tightrope to walk, as he needs to be careful not to anger the socially conservative in key primary states while also shifting his policies to reflect the national mood. This latest shift in position is an astute political judgement made with 2016 in mind. If he is to succeed beyond the primaries, Christie must appeal to a broader spectrum of voters, and yesterday’s decision was the first step in doing so.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 22 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at email@example.com.