Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Chris Christie ahead of the GOP curve on same-sex marriage

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
Rachael Beierle, left, and Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan, center, laugh at a joke during Amber Beierle's wedding vows Wednesday, October 15, at City Hall in Boise, Idaho. With Boise Mayor Dave Bieter out of town, Jordan officiated the wedding as acting mayor. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court found that same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and neighboring Nevada were unconstitutional. Rachael Beierle, left, and Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan, center, laugh at a joke during Amber Beierle's wedding vows Wednesday, October 15, at City Hall in Boise, Idaho. With Boise Mayor Dave Bieter out of town, Jordan officiated the wedding as acting mayor. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court found that same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and neighboring Nevada were unconstitutional.
HIDE CAPTION
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Christie chose not to appeal decision allowing same-sex marriage in New Jersey
  • Julian Zelizer: Gay rights movement was wise to focus on marriage issue
  • By marrying their cause to family values, they won over some in GOP, he says
  • Zelizer: Same-sex marriage is unlikely to be source of continuing conflict

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America."

(CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made headlines when he backed away from his opposition to same-sex marriage in New Jersey. Although he had initially indicated that he would challenge the recent court decision, Christie reversed course and announced that he would follow the law of his state.

Most pundits agreed that Christie's decision would enable him to expand his margin of victory in the upcoming gubernatorial election and improve his chances of emerging as the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2016.

Yet some commentators think this might cause objections to a Christie candidacy in the Republican primaries from social conservatives who remain firmly against same-sex marriage.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

In their view, Christie is an outlier, a Republican courting centrist voters who is going against the grain of the party. "This would suit him a lot better if he were running as a Democrat," one Republican told The National Review.

But there is a strong likelihood that within a few years, Christie might not be as much of an anomaly as they think. The progress on same-sex marriage has been rapid.

While the Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage as only being between a man and woman, many states moved forward in allowing same-sex couples to enter into marriage or civil unions.

Prodded by Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama said in May 2012 that he supported the right of same-sex partners to enter into marriage. In June this year, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional and that fsame- sex couples had the right to federal benefits that were normally accorded to heterosexual married couples.

Christie withdraws appeal on gay marriage

One of the most important reasons behind the success of this movement has been the decision to join the gay rights cause to a traditional family values issue promoted by the right: marriage. In recent decades, the gay rights movement has turned its attention away from issues of individual sexuality and liberation, and toward the right to marry. The civil right to enter into a partnership that conservatives have extolled for decades has been extremely important politically.

In the early 1960s, civil rights leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. won enormous support by connecting the cause of African-American freedom to traditional American values. In August 1963, during the famous March on Washington, King and others delivered their powerful speeches in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a reminder of how desegregation—and then voting rights—were a fulfillment of the American promise rather than a rejection of traditional values.

Unlike abortion after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, there is much stronger potential for same-sex marriage to become incorporated into the national landscape and removed from mainstream political debate.

As the courts and states have moved forward at a rapid pace on this issue, the rest of the nation has not been far behind. Public polls have shown growing support for same-sex marriage throughout the country, including in "red areas" of the country.

Last March, a poll by ABC News and the Washington Post found that 52% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican under the age of 50 supported same-sex marriage and 81% of people under 30 were in favor. Those trends have only intensified in recent months.

We have also seen more frequent images of same-sex marriage in popular culture. In one of the most popular comedy shows of the past few years, "Modern Family," one of the three families that is followed in this pseudo-documentary is a gay couple raising an adopted child.

While their sexuality is part of the story, it is remarkable how most of the shows don't center on this issue but instead on the normal ups and downs of family life. This season, the show began with these two characters, Mitch and Cam, becoming engaged in the wake of California's decision to allow same-sex marriage.

A growing number of Republicans have already backed away from their opposition to same-sex marriage. Christie is just one of those who have changed the tone of the party on this cultural question -- a group that includes Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Robert Portman and former Vice President Dick Cheney -- in an era when polarization has become stronger on almost every other issue. As Mitt Romney adviser David Kochel said, "Opposing the freedom to marry is a loser for our party and serves to drive away a growing number of voters who have turned the page."

So, even though Christie is taking a risk through his recent announcement, the odds are that many other Republicans won't be far behind. The gay rights movement has profoundly shifted the debate and advanced the cause of gay rights far beyond what anyone had imagined just a few years ago.

By taking one of the most familiar and central conservative arguments of our era, marriage, and embracing it as one of their own, the movement has gained legitimacy for the right of gay Americans to build their own families. There will be huge pressure on Republicans in the coming years to get on the right side of this issue and movement activists have made it easier for leaders in the GOP to come around to their side.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT