When you’re an all-but-declared candidate for president, everything you do will be viewed through the prism of 2016.
So the decision Monday by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to drop a legal challenge to same-sex marriage ensures bucket-loads of analysis by those skipping past his all-but certain reelection next month and peering ahead to an anticipated White House bid starting not long after.
The state Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex couples could be legally wed starting Monday; the first ceremonies were held at 12:01 a.m., making New Jersey the 14th state in the country to recognize same-sex marriage.
In ruling, the court suggested an appeal by the Christie administration was unlikely to succeed, a fact noted in a statement released by the governor’s office.
“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,” the statement said. “The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
Christie, a Republican governor in a Democratic-leaning state, has a mixed record on issues affecting gays and lesbians.
Christie has repeatedly stated his personal opposition to same-sex marriage and last year vetoed a bill, passed by the Democratic-run state Legislature, that granted gay couples the right to legally marry. But Christie has shunned the harsh rhetoric used by some social conservatives who view marriage as a sacred covenant between a man and woman.
He appointed an openly gay judge to the state Supreme Court and signed a law banning so-called conversion therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of gay minors, making New Jersey the second state after California to ban the controversial practice.
If he runs for president, as expected, Christie is likely to hew more to the center than rivals competing for support from the right-most wing of the GOP. He has already angered many in the party with his warm embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the New Jersey Shore in the waning days of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Christie’s decision Monday on same-sex marriage will almost certainly be used against him in the GOP primary contests by critics who will argue he was insufficiently rigorous in his opposition. The gamble Christie is making is that his stance—setting aside personal feelings, bowing to the seemingly inevitable—will appeal to pragmatists in the party who saw a different tack—reflexive, all-out opposition ending in capitulation and defeat—fail badly in the recent government shutdown.