By Gabriella Kostrzewa
It is never surprising to hear that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has an opinion on something. New Jersey’s recent debate on gay marriage is of course, no exception.
Last Friday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that New Jersey’s civil union laws did not provide LGBT individuals the same rights as married couples. Immediately following the ruling, Christie’s administration announced that it would seek a stay on the ruling. The governor has argued in court documents that since the case examines if people joined together in civil unions—not marriages—would be denied federal benefits that it is not a state issue.
Essentially, Governor Christie is continuing to be ambiguous on his precise position on an issue that has divided the American people, which is nothing new for Christie.
In February, the governor vetoed a bill passed by the New Jersey legislature that legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Simultaneously, Christie announced that he would honor a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage if New Jersey citizens approved it on the ballot this November. Christie argued that the people should decide a matter of such importance not a legislative body. The New Jersey legislature nixed this idea.
Christie’s indecisiveness over gay marriage and refusal to come out fully against it is understandable as he is up for re-election this year in a primarily blue state. He does not want to alienate independent and conservative Democratic voters who helped him capture the state four years ago.
Yet Christie may be looking even further than just the governor’s mansion in Trenton while campaigning for governor and running his state, he may be aiming for the White House.
Even though the 2016 presidential election is still years away, Christie has been unofficially dubbed the frontrunner for the Republican Party by the press and multiple media pundits. A recent poll indicated that Christie has the best chance of any Republican to beat Hillary Clinton—if she runs.
Christie meanwhile has not announced that he is running either, but it seems that he is laying the potential groundwork if he chooses to do so.
As Audrey Haynes, Julianne Flowers, and Paul-Henri Gurian propose in their article titled “Getting the Message Out: Candidate Strategy the Invisible Primary,” frontrunners in primary elections are not only aware of “the distribution of policy preferences within their own party, but also the broader ideological distribution found in the general election.”
Christie’s actions and communication about gay marriage highlights this. He is cognizant of the fact that most Democrats and a fair amount of independents support gay marriage while the Republican base is still vehemently opposed to legalizing it.
Haynes, Flowers, and Gurian also argue that a frontrunner’s ability to “position themselves during the transition from one election context to the other may be predicated on their ability to maintain some level of uncertainty in their policy stances.”
Christie’s position on gay marriage, exemplifies this argument. He is aware that his position on gay marriage is somewhat more left-leaning than the Republican base, and that in order to capture the Republican nomination he will have to assure socially conservative voters that he supports the traditional definition of marriage (in Republican terms).
Hence, his recent disagreement with the New Jersey Superior Court, which will give Christie the ability to show Republicans that he is anti-gay marriage if he is pressed on the issue.
At the same time, Christie has kept himself open to be viewed favorably by Independents and more conservative Democrats by supporting civil unions and a referendum on the ballot in New Jersey.
Some may argue that Christie is not in fact willingly keeping his views on gay marriage ambiguous. Others would most definitely beg to differ. Christie is a smart man, and a calculated politician. He is a Republican governor who embraced President Obama days before last year’s presidential election over Hurricane Sandy.
Christie is fully aware of what he is doing. He is keeping his policy stance uncertain from voters, just as Haynes, Flowers, and Gurian propose frontrunners should do. This way he can be whatever the voters need him to be on election day, which may very well be his key to victory.
Haberman, Maggie. 2013. “Chris Christie in Tough Spot After Gay Marriage Ruling.” Politico, September 27. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/chris-christie-gay-marriage-ruling-new-jersey-97480.html.
Hayes, Audrey A, Julianne F Flowers, and Paul-Henri Gurian. 2002. “Getting the Message Out: Candidate Communication Strategy During the Invisible Primary.” Political Research Quarterly 55 (September): 633–652.
Puschak, Evan. 2013. “Chris Christie Tries to Block Marriage Equality in New Jersey.” Msnbc, January 10. http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/10/01/chris-christie-tries-to-block-marriage-equality-in-new-jersey/.