A few months ago, I wrote a diary on why Chris Christie is no moderate ("The Strange and Substanceless Dem Embrace of Chris Christie"), and his recent comments about marriage equality and the DOMA ruling can remind the forgetful that, yes, Christie is a conservative Republican. I've described him before as Scott Walker plus a college degree and a hundred pounds, but with even less class.
As Barbara Buono, his progressive Democratic challenger, has frequently pointed out, there is only one person standing between New Jersey and marriage equality: Chris Christie. Last year, the NJ Senate and Assembly both passed marriage equality legislation. Chris Christie promptly vetoed it.
Christie was likewise displeased by the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA last week:
“I don’t think the ruling was appropriate,” said Christie, who is running for reelection in a blue state, one in which Democrats have hailed the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage.As far as I can tell, Christie has made no similar statement decrying the Supreme Court's invalidation of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Reauthorization Act of 2006 passed the Senate 98-0 and the House 390-33, larger margins than those by which DOMA passed in the 90s. And don't forget that in 2006, we had a Republican president, Republican Senate, and Republican House. What disrespect Christie shows toward his own party!
“I think it was wrong,” Christie continued, calling it “typical of the problem we see” in New Jersey’s own Supreme Court.
He blasted the U.S. Supremes for substituting “their own judgment for the judgment of a Republican Congress and a Democratic President. In the Republican Congress in the ‘90s and Bill Clinton. I thought that Justice Kennedy’s opinion was, in many respects, incredibly insulting to those people, 340-some members of Congress who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and Bill Clinton.”
“He basically said that the only reason to pass that bill was to demean people. That’s heck of a thing to say about Bill Clinton and about the Republican Congress back in the ‘90s. And it’s just another example of judicial supremacy, rather than having the government run by the people we actually vote for,” said Christie, who recently appeared with Clinton at a Clinton Global Initiative conference.
I think we can also be sure that Chris Christie didn't think that the court should have refrained from meddling with the Affordable Care Act because it was passed by a democratically elected legislature and signed by a democratically elected president.
Returning now to DOMA, Christie also ignores the fact that Clinton no longer supports DOMA and that a number of Democrats--and even a handful of Republicans (I'm thinking of you, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen)--who voted for the law in 1996 no longer support it and have endorsed its full repeal. Nor does Christie care about the fundamental violation of the right to equal protection under the law.
However, I'd like to get to the specific comment referenced in my title. Earlier today, Salon published an article ("Chris Christie isn't 'post-partisan' on LGBT rights") discussing how Christie and the NJ electorate are out of step on this issue. Bob Hennelly of Salon highlighted the following incident from a town hall:
And last week, just days after two landmark Supreme Court decisions advanced the cause of gay marriage, Christie happened to be holding his 109th town hall meeting in Republican-friendly Sussex County. But even in GOP territory, gay marriage has its boosters.(emphasis added)
Hope Breeman, from Highland Lakes, first politely pitched the issue of gay marriage to Christie as a potential $100 million windfall for the state’s tourism and wedding industries. Christie reminded Breeman and the audience that he had run opposing gay marriage and had consistently held to his view that it should be left up to the voters.
“You and I have a fundamental disagreement,” Christie responded. “To me, this is changing a 2,000-year-old institution and if it is going to be done, it should not be done by nine men and women in black robes in Washington, D.C. It shouldn’t be done by legislators. It should be done by the people of this state. Let them vote, and whatever they vote on I will support.”
Breeman was quick to push back. “Civil rights can’t be a referendum issue,” she interjected, even as Christie was still talking. “No, no, sir,” she insisted.
A 2,000-year-old institution, huh? So Chris Christie thinks that marriage began with Jesus. That's certainly a different position to take than the usual invocation of "biblical marriage." Polygamy, of course, was widespread in "biblical times," as was concubinage. (I'm sure that the reason for Newt Gingrich's serial infidelity is that he just wants to rediscover the roots of "biblical marriage.") Rather than going that route, Chris Christie is clearly speaking of the New Testament. Joshua ben Joseph, the historical figure known to us today as Jesus (the Greek version of his name), was--as far as we know--unmarried and celibate, quite uncommon in that era. Jesus, additionally, was part of a non-traditional family, having two fathers and one mother. The marriages of the apostles do not factor prominently into the narratives of the New Testament although many of them were likely married.
Moreover, early Christianity did not view marriage in that favorable of a light:
A cursory overview of the history of early Christian conversations about sexuality, however, puts their claim on shaky ground. We find that same-gender sexuality was not a central point of contention for early Christians, who spent more time criticizing heterosexual marriage.If you are looking for the historical roots of heterosexual monogamy, Jesus can't really help you.
The earliest Christian communities considered heterosexual marriage to be fraught with problems and was thus to be avoided. Christian leaders argued that married people were too distracted by their familial obligations to be wholly devoted to God. Rather, they argued that the ideal sexual state for Christians was celibacy. They asserted that since the angels in heaven were asexual, Christians ought to remain single in order to live on earth already "as angels." They believed that Jesus would commend single and celibate Christians for "making themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:10-12). Finally, given that God's nature was virginal (literally "uncorrupted"), they claimed that Christian virgins shared God's very nature and were thus best able to commune with God.
Although the most dedicated Christians remained unmarried, heterosexual marriage and intercourse was tolerated in some cases. For those who could not control their lust, marriage absorbed their sexual impulses, keeping them from committing worse sexual sins. (Note here that marriage is defended not as a "good," but as better than other evils.) One of the only reasons to regard marriage as inherently good was that it produced children and that Christians who participated in procreative intercourse participated in God's creation.
Yet even those who found some value in marriage argued that married couples ought to refrain from sex as much as possible and especially when they wished to devote themselves to prayer, setting up sex and piety as mutually exclusive. Moreover, they stood resolutely against married couples who had sex only for pleasure and against all non-procreative sexual acts between married couples -- anal sex, oral sex, sex while pregnant, post-menopausal sex, etc. -- all of which were considered "against nature."
It was not Christians, but the pagan state that labored hardest to defend marriage. The poor conditions of life in the ancient Mediterranean made for regular population crises (each woman needed to have approximately five children to maintain a stable population). Thus, the state regularly incentivized marriage and procreation. Emperor Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus), for instance, introduced three waves of legislation that rewarded married people with children (e.g., with tax incentives, expanded rights and released obligations) and penalized the unmarried (e.g., taking away rights of inheritance or rights to hold office).
Christie's comment demonstrates even more ignorance than that. Passing marriage equality legislation in Jersey would have no bearing on the Roman Catholic sacrament of matrimony. The state does not enforce baptismal contracts, and it's not in charge of enforcing religious marriage contracts either. As we live in a secular state (thankfully), religious law and civil law are separate. They will continue to be separate. And Chris Christie will continue to be wrong.