It’s a big day for marriage equality, as New Jersey moves forthrightly ahead. That’s another 9 million people living in a state with full marriage equality at the state and federal level – and it reveals how the US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year could affect many state courts that will have to tackle this issue in the years ahead.
But what’s striking to me is how the most promising potential presidential candidate for the GOP in 2016, Chris Christie, decided to withdraw his appeal to the court’s ruling that would have made a popular referendum on the issue mandatory. That was his somewhat disingenuous position for a long time – as if the courts and legislature were somehow not capable of performing their constitutional roles properly without a direct popular vote. No such referendums are part of New Jersey’s history – Christie’s would have been the first. So his fig leaf is gone. The most mainstream Republican possibility in 2016 will come from a marriage equality state – just as the Pope is the first to have come from a country that already has marriage equality.
This matters. Leaders who come from places where equality is working are much less hostile to gay dignity than in those places where it remains a frightening abstraction. Christie’s decision to stop resisting will help entrench marriage equality still further and force the GOP to confront whether hostility to committed homosexual relationships remains a litmus test in its presidential nomination process. If I were Christie, I’d focus on the social data we are already accumulating on the impact of marriage equality on the lives and relationships of people in the relevant states. It’s the best argument there now is. Below is a great video presentation by Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, on the strikingly positive sociological data so far in marriage equality states:
A reader sums it up:
(1) Uptake is high, and will get higher as a result of the fall of DOMA, (2) domestic partnership and civil unions were never very popular to begin with and now are falling into disuse and are likely to fade away, (3) SSM breakup rates are relatively low, but it’s early days and data are sparse, (4) straight marital behavior has not been affected.
When the lives of gay citizens have improved immensely, when the reform has proven popular among heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, and when we can observe no effect at all on heterosexual marriage, it seems to me that the anti-gay right has to either dig deeper into fundamentalist rigidity, or embrace this as the truly conservative reform it is.
(Photo: Alexander Padilla and Anthony Arenas cut a piece of cake after being married by U.S. Senator-elect Cory Booker at City Hall in the early morning hours of October 21, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. By Kena Betancur/Getty Images.)