New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a smart man.
Since his arrival on the national stage, I’ve been impressed with his ability to boil down policy positions into “plainspeak.” Christie actually has that rare ability to relate to people in a way most politicians simply cannot (yes, I’m referring to you Mitt Romney). While I don’t always agree with the Governor, I respect his ability to communicate and have watched him with admiration and interest the last couple of years.
Last week, the Governor vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature that would have mandated equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Christie’s veto came as no surprise since he declared weeks ago he’d do just that. And while I think this move was shortsighted, the Governor did something far worse when he suggested that the issue of gay marriage should be put on the ballot this fall (during a presidential election year). On the surface this sounds like a sensible thing to do but in politics, this is a poison pill. Imagine the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be poured into New Jersey by the right-wing groups to deny gays and lesbians equal rights. If you don’t believe me, just ask California how that fight is going.
Where my proverbial jaw hit the floor though is when Christie stated “People would have been happy to have referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South” during the Jim Crow era. Uhm really? You’ve got some nerve Governor. At best Christie is displaying wanton ignorance and at worst this kind of pandering to conservatives is shameful.
I’m a son of the South. I was raised in South Carolina, a product of a home with, yes, a black nanny and all the bad and good baggage that goes with it. When I heard the governor say this, I was immediately reminded of Kathryn Stockett’s wildly-popular novel The Help. In her epilogue called “Too Little, Too Late” she writes:
What I am sure about is this: I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.
I “get it” having lived it first-hand. Anyone who’s read The Help or even seen the movie should know putting equal rights for African-Americans on any ballot in the South during the Jim Crow era would have dealt that community a massive blow in their just fight for equal rights. Anyone who thinks it would have been ethical to put to popular vote in 1958 equal rights for Mississippi or South Carolina blacks as Mississippi or South Carolina whites is willfully ignorant.
Notice I’ve used the term “equal rights.” I don’t know what a “black” right is. I don’t know what a “gay” right is. Frankly I don’t want anything my fellow citizens can’t enjoy. What I do want is an equal right to marry the man of my dreams and raise our children in a loving and stable environment. For me it’s ironic that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously issued the Loving vs. Virginia decision in 1967, which is the same year I was born into a racially-segregated South. Loving declared all state laws banning interracial marriage unconstitutional, not just Virginia where the case originated. It leveled the playing field for all races to marry, including New Jersey.
When one state declares a group of people to have lesser rights than their neighbors, the courts and the legislatures should step in. The same standard applies today to the struggle for equal rights for gays and lesbians. Popular polling shows majority-support for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The New Jersey legislature, legally elected by the people of the “Garden” state, has passed this legislation and now Governor Christie has vetoed it. That’s his right. I disagree with him but he’s a co-equal branch of government in New Jersey and he has the right to have his opinion. Let the voters of New Jersey decide when he’s on the ballot whether he deserves a second term. I’d vote against the governor if I were a resident of that state.
Not by accident, all of this comes after Christie recently nominated the first openly gay man to the New Jersey Supreme Court, a laudable move in its own right. This nomination just isn’t enough to give him cover for trying to kill equal marriage rights for gays. One nomination doesn’t make this right and frankly it wreaks of a pathetic game of political cuteness.
So I’d like to recommend The Help to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Reading it could prove vital to understanding my humanity not to mention that of his own gay, lesbian and black constituents.