Kevin Riordan: At the end of the day, a gay-marriage vote is about people

Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R., Somerset) tells the hearing of Gov. Christie's decision to veto a gay marriage bill.
Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R., Somerset) tells the hearing of Gov. Christie's decision to veto a gay marriage bill. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: January 26, 2012

At some point during Tuesday's marathon marriage-equality hearing in Trenton, I had a revelation.

This entire show is about me!

But stardom is not an unalloyed joy, particularly when total strangers make assumptions about who you are, how you ought to live, and whom you should love.

Or if you exist at all.

A same-sex marriage opponent cited celebrities such as Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, and Sinead O'Connor as evidence of the supposedly malleable and possibly ephemeral nature of gay identity.

Did I mention that this testimony before the New Jersey Senate's Judiciary Committee was given by a self-described "ex-"homosexual?

Other, less melodramatic opponents of the proposed same-sex marriage bill also cited authorities from Hollywood, as well as history, biblical and otherwise.

Supporters of the bill pointed to their own share of luminaries - the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "the great writer Andrew Sullivan." And so numerous were members of the clergy that the hearing room looked like a chapel - albeit one consumed by deep theological disagreements.

Most fundamental among them: Are gay people born or made? Do we, like our fellow citizens, inherently possess the right to have our spousal relationship sanctioned by the state?

Or are we a misguided, if not malevolent, minority who have "chosen" a "lifestyle" and now seek a privilege so revolutionary or potentially toxic to the body politic that the majority simply must have a chance to weigh in?

Some version of the latter appears to be the view of Chris "No Fan of Gay Marriage" Christie. The governor and potential GOP vice presidential candidate adroitly upstaged Tuesday's proceedings by suggesting, at a simultaneous news conference in Bridgewater, that the state hold a referendum on marriage equality.

The news was helpfully relayed to the packed hearing in Trenton by Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R., Somerset), whose support Garden State Equality had hoped for.

The game-changing call for a referendum, as well as Christie's newly explicit vow to veto the bill, not only gives Bateman and his fellow Republicans a magical expanse of middle ground, it also backs the Democrats into a corner.

It enables the GOP in "liberal" New Jersey to avoid explicitly opposing marriage equality. The party can simply watch its likely demise. After all, this is America. Why not let the people speak?

Marriage-equality supporters, meanwhile, are in the unenviable position of having to make the case for why voters shouldn't directly decide this issue.

Not that the Senate Democrats were caught off-guard by Christie's supremely shrewd move. After Bateman's revelation, journalists were quickly apprised that New Jersey's last civil-rights referendum, in 1915, rejected women's right to vote.

And Senate President Steve Sweeney, the Gloucester County Democrat who has morphed into a marriage-equality champion, readily abandoned his relatively temperate initial comments for a frontal assault Wednesday.

"A rookie mistake" is how Sweeney characterized Christie's move, which he also described as a blatant attempt to placate the GOP's influential antigay constituency.

Senator, you are so right.

Whatever its tactical brilliance, Christie's move ignores the fact that unlike in centuries past, we no longer force certain citizens to endure a de facto popularity contest.

That's what politicians, whom we choose to make decisions on such things as marriage equality, volunteer to do on our behalf. And if we don't like them, we tell them on Election Day.

In calling for an American Idol-style yea-nay about the private lives of thousands of New Jerseyans, Christie seems to have forgotten something.

"We are debating about the lives of real people," the bill cosponsor, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, told the hearing.

Marriage equality, the Bergen County Democrat added, is about "people we all know, love and respect."

My people.


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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