After Tough Talk About Leadership, Gov. Christie Tries To Duck Marriage Equality Decision

January 24, 2012 4:45 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Stuck between pressure from right-wing activists, like the National Organization for Marriage, who want him to veto marriage equality legislation, and his constituents, who favor equality, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) is doing everything he can to undermine his carefully cultivated image as a straight-talking and decisive leader. 

Earlier this month, Christie said of marriage equality advocates in the state legislature, "They have a right to set their agenda, I'll set mine, we'll see who gets there first. ... When forced to make a decision, if forced to make a decision on it, I'll make a decision." Now he has a new plan: Let someone else decide.

Gov. Chris Christie today called for a ballot question this November on same-sex marriage.

"Let's put the question of same sex marriage on the ballot," Christie said.

"I believe in the institution of marriage. I realize this is my personal opinion. ... Rather than have stalemate and deadlock on this issue, let's put it on the ballot.

"It shouldn't be decided by 121 people in Trenton.

"While I know I could stop this by myself, I suggest an alternative," the governor added. "Let's be governed by the will of the people on this. Let's let the people decide. I would urge every Republican in the legislature to put it on the ballot."

Christie's new position just happens to echo robocalls from the National Organization for Marriage describing marriage equality legislation as "an attempt by wealthy activists to force same-sex marriage on New Jersey without a public vote," as though the state's elected legislature is some secretive cabal meeting in a smoke-filled room. It's also an odd position for an elected governor to take, as it is at odds with the very concept of representative democracy. Christie knows quite well that "121 people in Trenton" decide matters of public policy for the people who elected them; that's how the system works.

Of course, Christie doesn't really find that inappropriate — if he did, he wouldn't have vetoed a proposed millionaire's tax that had the overwhelming support of New Jersey residents. More likely, he just doesn't want to have to take a position and risk alienating either a majority of his constituents or well-funded conservative activists who could cost him a spot on a national Republican ticket.

Christie's reluctance to take responsibility for a decision on equality is particularly striking in light of the scathing attacks he has leveled against President Obama:

In New Jersey we have done this, and more, because the Executive Branch has not sat by and waited for others to go first to suggest solutions to our state's most difficult problems.

Being a mayor, being a governor, being a president means leading by taking risk on the most important issues of the day. It has happened in Trenton. [...]

In Washington, on the other hand, we have watched as we drift from conflict to conflict, with little or no resolution.

We watch a president who once talked about the courage of his convictions, but still has yet to find the courage to lead. [...]

[W]e continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office. We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things that are obvious to all Americans and to a watching and anxious world community. [...]

The rule for effective governance is simple. It is one Ronald Reagan knew by heart. And one that he successfully employed with Social Security and the Cold War. When there is a problem, you fix it. That is the job you have been sent to do and you cannot wait for someone else to do it for you.

Sound familiar?