When to Hold, When to Fold

That’s more like it.

New Jersey has become the 14th state to legalize same-sex marriage, thanks in large part to there being at least one Republican official in the United States who knows when to throw in the towel.

Here’s what happened.  The Garden State sanctioned gay civil unions in late 2006.  In February 2012, both houses of the state’s legislature voted to legalize gay marriage outright, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, who personally opposes gay marriage and said he would prefer the issue be resolved by the people of New Jersey through a ballot referendum.

Last month, however, a state superior court judge ruled that New Jersey’s civil unions policy failed to “provide same sex couples with equal access to the rights and benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples,” and that the state was therefore obligated to allow same-sex marriage posthaste.

Governor Christie initially sought to appeal the ruling, but was blocked by the State Supreme Court, which denied Christie’s request to halt same-sex weddings until the appeal ran its course.

On Monday, as marriage ceremonies began as scheduled, a Christie spokesperson released the following statement:

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 governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In light of the government shutdown that wreaked havoc on the country during the first half of this month, one cannot help but point to the above and ask Republicans in Congress, “Is that so hard?”

The whole casus belli for the shutdown, you will recall, was the adamant refusal by certain members of the House and Senate to recognize the legitimacy of the Affordable Care Act, and the vow to keep Washington, D.C., closed until the act was dismantled.

As this gang of obstructionists had to be reminded, this was a piece of legislation that had been approved by both houses of Congress, signed into law by the president and upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And yet, the GOP was having none of it.  In their minds, Obamacare simply could not, and cannot, be accepted as the law of the land, even though, according to the stipulations and processes laid out in the U.S. Constitution, it is the law of the land.

The House has been duly ridiculed for voting to abolish the Affordable Care Act on more than 40 separate occasions—all of them knowingly in vain—but at least in doing so, its members have followed standard operating procedure regarding how laws are passed, albeit to a farcical extent.  After all, you can’t vote to overturn a law without acknowledging that the law exists.

What the shutdown debacle made plain—in case it wasn’t obvious already—is that antipathy toward Obamacare has so overwhelmed the presently-dominant “Tea Party” wing of the GOP that its leaders have come simply to not care about process.  To them, the ends justify the means, and the hell with everything else.

Governor Christie, in his handling of the gay marriage question, has presented himself as counterprogramming to this mentality:  He pushed as far as he could to prevent gay marriage from coming to New Jersey, and when his efforts proved legally futile, he gave up and moved on, conceding that not all political battles can be won, particularly when the tide of history is not in your favor.

We shouldn’t need to heap special praise upon Christie for his actions.  It is a measure of the petulance and ridiculousness of Republicans in Congress that Christie can be viewed as a beacon of statesmanship by comparison for simply doing his job.

But we cannot deny the context of the environment in which we live.  Having one high-profile Republican who respects the legitimacy of established law is preferable to having none at all.

If this week’s yielding on gay marriage is part of Christie’s presumed grand scheme to eventually run for president, he has executed it in a rather ingenious fashion.  The political right can rest assured that his heart is with them, while everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that, on matters of actual governance, he also possesses a brain.

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