Rabner Opinion Keeps “Christie for President” Alive

Gov. Chris Christie’s fight to prevent same-sex marriage in New Jersey ended with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. Yet the Chief’s precedential opinion could help Christie win the presidency, should he become the Republican nominee.

Writing for the New Jersey Supreme Court, Judge Rabner denied the Christie administration’s request to stay a lower court ruling permitting same-sex marriage while the case was appealed.

“Because state law offers same-sex couples civil unions but not the option of marriage, same-sex couples in New Jersey are now being deprived of the full rights and benefits the State Constitution guarantees,” Rabner wrote in Garden State Equality v. Dow.

As a result of the court’s opinion, same-sex-marriages began in New Jersey in October 2013. While Christie has long opposed such unions, he abandoned his legal fight when the state’s highest court left little doubt that he would ultimately lose.

“Chief Justice Stuart Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court’s view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,’” the Christie administration stated in response to the decision. “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.”

Without further appeal, New Jersey became the 14th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision also represented the first time a court had struck down a state ban on gay marriage as a direct result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

If Christie is holding a grudge, he hasn’t let on.

In appointing Rabner for tenure, Christie ended speculation that he would exact revenge on the justice for effectively legalizing same-sex marriage. Christie has long criticized the “liberal activist court.” However, in this case, Gov. Christie may be playing the long game.

While the Governor drew criticism from social conservatives for abandoning his same-sex marriage legal challenge, winning a national election will require him to appeal to both sides of the aisle. Judge Rabner’s decision effectively allows Christie to maintain his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, while also touting the fact that he comes from a state where such unions are legal.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

Rabner Opinion Keeps “Christie for President” Alive