Governor Chris Christie said his pick to be the first openly gay justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court won’t rule on issues involving same-sex marriage.
Christie, a first-term Republican, also said critics, including Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a gay Democrat who represents Trenton, are “numbnuts” for comparing him to segregationists because of comments he made about civil rights.
The governor last week proposed a voter referendum on same-sex marriage. Democratic lawmakers said the issue is a matter of civil rights and shouldn’t be decided by voters. Christie drew criticism from Democrats when he said that “people would have been happy with a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South.”
Christie, 49, expanded on that statement today, saying that in the political climate of the 1960s, no referendum for civil rights would have passed. He said those pushing for same-sex marriage are touting popular support, a message he said contradicts their opposition to a referendum.
Christie’s nomination last week of Bruce Harris, 61, the Republican mayor of Chatham, came a day before the governor pledged to veto a same-sex marriage bill that Democrats say they have the votes to pass.
The governor said today that Harris told him that he has advocated making gay marriage legal personally and as a politician.
“If confirmed to the court, he would recuse himself from that matter because he did not want there to be the appearance of bias,” Christie told reporters. “My perspective on that issue was to put it aside because he’s not going to rule on that.”
He also dismissed critics including Gusciora, a sponsor of the gay-marriage bill, with the “numbnuts” comment for comparing him in prepared statements to segregationists.
“Come on guys -- you’ve got to be able to call B.S. on those kinds of releases,” Christie said to reporters in Trenton, the state capital.
The governor “reverted to name-calling” because he couldn’t take on the issue on its merits, Gusciora said in a statement issued later today.
“The governor’s opposition to the civil right of marriage equality is comparable to others who opposed other civil rights,” Gusciora said. “If he doesn’t like the comparison, then he should change his position on marriage equality and sign the bill into law.”
Democrats, who control both the Senate and Assembly, have made the same-sex marriage issue a top priority in 2012. Two years ago, Democrats failed to pass a bill permitting the practice and supported by then-Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.
Corzine enacted a measure in 2006 to allow civil unions, after the state’s high court ordered lawmakers to extend marital rights to same-sex couples. The law is being challenged in court by Lambda Legal, a national advocacy group which says that it doesn’t provide the benefits and protections of marriage.