After 37 years as a committed couple, Ulysses Dietz and Gary Berger were married this afternoon by Mayor Victor De Luca at Maplewood Town Hall, as New Jersey becomes the 14th state to permit gay people to marry. The Web Goddess and I were thrilled to be in attendance, along with other friends of the happy couple who were able to get time away from work on short notice.

Also today, Gov. Chris Christie conceded defeat in his opposition to marriage equality, after a unanimous state Supreme Court decision lifting a lower-court stay, which touched off wedding bells around the state.

One of the cool things about blogging is the occasional opportunity to say “I told you so,” and back it up with a link. In a February 2012 post headlined “The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be,” I wrote:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

When I predicted Christie would be better off by losing, I was looking ahead 18 months to when he would stand for re-election.  Election Day now is little more than two weeks away, and his re-election is not in doubt.  A liberal friend predicted before the wedding this afternoon that if Christie runs for president in 2016, the Right will savage him for dropping his appeal before the court could eventually rule on the appeal itself.

I don’t see it that way — the Right has bigger quarrels with Christie than marriage equality.  By dropping a clearly hopeless cause, Christie demonstrates he is more pragmatic than Ted Cruz.  That’s admittedly a low hurdle, but it does represent an “evolution” in Christie’s approach to the issue.  Four years ago I voted for Jon Corzine, the badly-tarnished Democratic incumbent, solely on the basis of Christie’s announced support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Thirty-six states to go.  They’ll go one by one for a while, but eventually I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be asked to rule on some state’s refusal to honor a same-sex marriage performed in another state — by which time the lack of damage to the institution of marriage will be well established.

If it happens that way, I’ll have another I-told-you-so post to write.  In the meantime, congratulations to Gary and Ulysses, and to all our other friends who are marrying or planning weddings on this happy day.

(Photo by the Web Goddess, of course)


With the important exception of same-sex marriage, I’ve been a big fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  Here’s me about a year and a half ago:

I love watching clips of Christie speaking to voters like adults.  Whether he’s describing his own state as a “failed experiment” or jousting with his favorite piñata, the teacher’s union, it’s refreshing to watch him.

Since then I’ve shrugged off a few times when I’ve thought his candor has lapsed into bullying.  But the ugly confrontation on Saturday is simply appalling.

At an impromptu news conference about a major water-treatment emergency in Monmouth County, Christie had specified that he would take questions only about the current topic.  When a reporter dared to ask an innocuous question on a different subject, Christie snarled, “”Did I say on topic?! Are you stupid?! On topic! On topic. Next question.” He doubled-down seconds later, ending the session with “Thank you all very much — and I’m sorry for that idiot over there.”

“Governor Awesome” (an unregistered trademark of Tigerhawk) has been talked about as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney.  I’ve been hoping Romney will look elsewhere so that Christie can continue his efforts to put the state on a more solid financial footing.  But now I’m also very leery of putting a man with appalling judgment and serious anger-management issues a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes.

(Welcome, Patch readers!)

I’m like reasonably civic-minded and well-informed and stuff.  (I have a blog, you know.) I called the GOP presidential contest way back in January.  By the time I started my blog in July 2008, the presidential contenders were already set.  But if I’d started a few months earlier, I know I would have had a lot of snarky stuff to say about New Jersey’s meaningless June primary election.

Except this year there’s actually something going on.  Not at the top of the ticket, of course.  But a Congressional seat opened up this year in the only way it was going to happen:  The incumbent died.

Here’s what I had to say about Donald Payne Sr. after voting in the general election  four years ago:

I voted straight Republican. Aside from the Presidential race, I was voting in the interests of divided government, not because I prefer the positions of whoever the GOP Freeholder candidate was over the positions of whoever the Democratic Freeholder candidate was. The Republicans did not field a candidate for Congress, so I couldn’t vote against Donald Payne, short of writing someone in. I’ve got nothing against Payne other than the fact that he’s a product of the Newark Democratic machine who has served 10 terms in Congress already.

The Web Goddess and I voted at 6 a.m. that day, but I’ve already missed that window today.  I’ll vote after I get off work.  In the meantime, I’m hereby asking my blog and Facebook friends for input on my important vote for Congress.  Should it be Donald Payne Jr., who sits on his father’s old chair on the Newark City Council and now seeks to turn the Congressional seat into a hereditary peerage?  Or should it be fellow Newark City Councilman Ron C. Rice, son of former Newark City Councilman Ronald L. Rice?  Or there are four other candidates, one of them is the mayor of Irvington, the next town over from me.

Wait a minute!  I’m a Republican!

Anybody know if New Jersey is one of the states where any voter can vote in either primary?  And if not, anybody have any thoughts on the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate?  The polls close at 8 p.m.

Update: They handed me a Republican ballot when I signed in, because that’s how I’m registered.  If I were independent, I think I could have voted in either primary.  Just about the only contested GOP race was for U.S. Senate, and I voted for State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, rather than any of the three Tea Party-ish candidates running against him.  Kyrillos won in a walk.  Despite the fact that it’s frustrating and feels somewhat useless to vote in really lop-sided races, I’d still rather have that than a Florida 2000 kind of scenario.

 

(Welcome, TigerHawk and Patch readers!  You can find more New Jersey posts here, more marriage equality posts here.)
The Web Goddess, who reads the left-leaning Salon so that I don’t have to, today flagged a very astute and even-handed article on the political dilemma that same-sex marriage poses for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

I argued earlier this week that although Christie will veto the marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk, the governor is fighting a losing battle.  The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

In Salon, author Steven Kornacki captures the dilemma well:

There are two elections on the horizon that Chris Christie has a particular interest in. The first is in New Jersey next year, when he’ll seek a second term as governor. The second is in 2016, when he’ll make a logical presidential candidate — if he wins reelection in ’13 and if the Republican nomination is open. (For now, at least, let’s leave aside the idea that Christie might serve as his party’s vice presidential candidate this year.)

This makes the debate over gay marriage in the Garden State, where the Democratic-controlled Senate approved marriage equality legislation yesterday, a problem for him.

On the one hand, support for gay marriage among New Jersey voters is solid…  Christie has to be very careful as he approaches his reelection race. He doesn’t have much margin for error when it comes to alienating swing voters — one of the reasons he was so colorful and adamant in denying interest in the presidential race last year — and swing voters in New Jersey are generally fine with gay marriage.

But Republican voters nationally are not, and it will be a long time before they are (if they ever are). So if he wants to preserve his viability for ’16, Christie cannot be known as the New Jersey governor who enacted same-sex marriage. But he also can’t position himself as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent of it; to do so would reek of the cultural conservatism that has made most national Republicans unmarketable in New Jersey and endanger Christie’s reelection prospects. And if he gets the boot in ’13, it could sink whatever ’16 ambitions he has.

In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Christie did campaign “as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent” of marriage equality.  He went beyond merely promising to veto it — he promised to support a state constitutional amendment banning it.  You won’t hear The Great Man repeating that promise.  The legislature may or may not be able to overcome a veto in the current session (which lasts until January 2014), but there is zero chance that a constitutional amendment would pass in New Jersey.

I want to be careful here — I am not criticizing Christie for having moderated his stance on same-sex marriage.  I think it’s a move in the right direction.  I have no doubt that Christie honestly believes that marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman. I disagree with his position, but holding that position does not make him evil.  Don’t forget, that’s precisely the position Barack Obama articulated just days before the 2008 election.  The most important difference between Obama’s pre-election stance and Christie’s is that Obama opposed tinkering with state constitutions.

Christie has every right to modulate his level of aggressiveness in supporting one-man-one-woman.  He’s promised to veto the current bill, and he has to go through with that.  But as Kornacki writes, the best thing that could happen to Christie in terms of his future political ambitions would be for marriage equality to become the law of the land in New Jersey without his fingerprints on it.  If it begins to look possible that the legislature could override a veto, look for only token arm-twisting by Christie.

Senate President Sweeney

(Welcome, NewJerseyNewsroom.com readers! You can find more posts on gay issues here, and more on New Jersey here.)

Timing is everything in politics.  In a race against the clock two years ago, with a lame-duck governor who happily would have signed the bill, the New Jersey Senate fell well short of approving same-sex marriage.  Today, with a governor who will veto the bill, a similar bill passed the Senate easily, and approval also is expected in the Assembly.

Chris Christie, who in most ways I consider an outstanding governor, lost my vote in the 2009 election solely on the basis of his promise to support a constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage equality.  Neither house of the state legislator has the votes now to override the expected veto — but that could change, and the legislature has nearly two years to override.  In the two years between Senate votes, the tally shifted from 20-14 against to 24-16 in favor.

Votes are going to shift only in one direction.  Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, abstained in the vote two years ago — effectively voting no, as any bill needs an absolute majority of 21 to pass.  This time he led the fight for the bill.  Whenever a politician changes sides on an issue, he or she has to be prepared to explain the “flip-flop.”  Here’s Sweeney’s explanation, from before today’s vote:

It was a political calculation [the first time] … you know, I didn’t want to be part of a bill that was gonna fail. And it was the wrong position to take. Because this is about civil rights, and you can’t take a pass on civil rights.

… There’s a whole lot that’s taken place since [the last vote]. Which is people like myself recognizing that this isn’t a political issue, it’s a civil rights issue, and when you talk about, well, put it on the ballot — you know, the majority will always deny the minority, in almost every example, of giving what they already have. So no, we’re not doing that. As a legislative body it’s our responsibility to do the right thing.

Here’s a thought experiment: Try to imagine a politician explaining a vote change in the opposite direction. Ain’t gonna happen.

Also today, the governor of Washington signed a bill making that state the seventh to allow same-sex couples to wed.  The Census Bureau says that in 2010 there were more than 130,000 legally married same-sex couples in the U.S., and despite the fantasies of opponents, no legislature is ever going to issue wholesale annulments.  As the number inexorably rises, same-sex marriage will follow the same arc as interracial marriage, moving from scandalous to novel to unremarkable.  There’s no going back.

 

Out of 50 states, it turns out 49 of them have lower taxes than New Jersey:

As a percent of their income, taxes in the Garden State were 12.2% in 2009, nearly double that of Alaska. Like Connecticut, much of this tax burden comes from state residents who commute to New York City and pay taxes there as well. This illustrates how a state resident contributes to the tax base of multiple states. Although not reflected in the percent of income residents pay in state and local taxes, it is nonetheless an additional burden commuters have to bear. According to Tax Foundation, the state has the third-worst environment for business in the country, with a corporate tax rate of 9%. It also has an above-average sales tax, as well as one of the highest rates in the country for cigarettes and liquor.

Kudos to Governor Christie for resisting class-warfare rhetoric and vetoing the so-called “millionaire’s tax.” My one-time boss, former Home News City Editor Tom Hester Sr., has the scoop on what can happen if you raise taxes on “the rich”:  They take their money elsewhere.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the so-called “millionaires’ tax”—a state income tax hike on residents who earn over $1 million annually—sent to him last week by the Democratic-controlled Legislature for fear the 16,000 wage earners it would affect would bailout of the state and hurt the economy.

It turns out that 6-in-10 New Jerseyans who earn more than $75,000 annually say they would like to leave the state, compared to nearly half of those who earn less.

Econ 101: Investment supports job formation.  Raising taxes on anyone deters job formation.  In particular, tax increases on “the rich” should be thought of as coming dollar for dollar out of a pool of money that otherwise would be invested.

If you envy the wealth of others, work toward building your own wealth.  In the meantime, recognize that people with more money have more options than you do.  And get over it.

(Anybody who thinks these are the words of a plutocrat is invited to read my riches-to-rags story…)

Update: Tigerhawk has his own take on NJ taxes.  I point this out primarily as an excuse to boast that I posted 32 minutes before he did.

Larry and I have exercised our right to be married for many years. (Our wives are named Cathy and Nina.) Our gay and lesbian friends deserve the same right.

My friend Mary Mann at Maplewood Patch has resurrected a photo the Web Goddess took of me and another St. George’s parishioner demonstrating for equality at the Statehouse in late 2009.  She used the photo with a story in advance of this afternoon’s first Maplewood Pride picnic, which suddenly became in part a celebration of New York’s historic decision yesterday to allow same-sex marriages.

The Web Goddess and I put on our marriage equality T-shirts and took our beach chairs to the park to enjoy the beautiful day, the music, and the company of gay and straight friends.

At an early break in the music,  the mayor took  the microphone to recognize the event on behalf of the Township Committee.  One of the organizers led the crowd in a cheer for the New York legislature, and shouted, “New Jersey is next!”

Designed by the Web Goddess. Click on the shirt to order it at no markup from Cafe Press.

A wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately untrue.  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom I admire and otherwise support on almost every issue, vowed before his election to veto any bill legalizing same-sex marriage.  On that basis alone, I voted for the Democratic incumbent.  Since the New Jersey legislature was unable to pass a marriage equality law in the waning days of the Corzine administration, there is no realistic chance of same-sex marriage in New Jersey as long as Christie is governor.  This will be a gut-check issue for me if Christie runs for re-election.  Some days it’s not easy being a socially liberal Republican.

As Ronald Reagan may once have said,The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”  Christie’s brand of fiscal conservatism addresses an urgent need in a state which, when he became governor, was facing an $11 billion deficit on a $30 billion budget.  As Christie put it, “New Jersey is a failed experiment.”

Pew Research Center, March 2011

Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Pew Research has found that support for gay marriage is growing inexorably, and there’s no reason to believe anything will reverse the trend.  As a happily married straight man, it’s easy for me to be patient.  Many of my gay friends are understandably less serene.

The fact that I can accurately refer to “many of my gay friends” reflects what one of those friends, a former church warden, once described as “the bubble we live in.”  Compared to the state and to society as a whole, gay people are over-represented in Maplewood (in the judgment-free, statistical sense of that term).  Within Maplewood, gay people are over-represented at St. George’s Episcopal Church, where the Web Goddess and I have both served as elected members of the Vestry.

The large majority of members of the parish are straight, but gay and lesbian couples are always in evidence. Many of the leadership positions of the parish are filled by gay people, including the senior of the two Wardens and four of the nine other Vestry members.  The Rev. Bernie Poppe is gay, although he consistently focuses on being the Rector of a diverse parish, rather than “a gay priest.”

Such an environment makes it easy to be comfortable with the existence of people whose orientation differs from my own. I see gay people kneeling in prayer, raising their children, bringing food to the church picnic.  They obey the laws, they pay taxes, they complain about paying taxes (I’m looking at you, Tom).  Children who grow up in that environment will almost certainly be gay-friendly citizens as long as they live.

Same-sex marriage is a basic civil rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.  With every passing year America will bend further in that direction.  Faster, please.

The Softer Side of Governor Awesome

TigerHawk is my go-to blog for coverage of New Jersey’s Governor Awesome, and I love watching clips of Christie speaking to voters like adults.  Whether he’s describing his own state as a “failed experiment” or jousting with his favorite piñata, the teacher’s union, it’s refreshing to watch him.

The alternate narrative, since there always has to be one, is that Christie is a bully. Here’s the Star-Ledger, in an editorial entitled “Christie’s Bully Act Getting Old“:

Some find Christie entertaining, but his combativeness is counterproductive and breeds the kind of hate speech that plaques [sic] the nation.

To be fair, the editorial was a month before the Arizona shooting turned “hate speech” into the overused meme of the year.  The perception of bullying is something Christie will have to keep in mind.

Anyway I clicked the button on TigerHawk’s latest discovery and settled back to see if Christie was going to “plaque” the nation.  I got a little wary when a Newark mother started talking about her struggles to get educational help for her dyslexic son Isaac — I hoped Christie wasn’t going to go on the attack.

Well, he did, but not against the mother.  He gave her more than two minutes to tell her story, including the tidbit that the state and federal governments together are providing $85 million to Newark alone for students with learning disabilities, yet the public schools told her there was nothing they could do for her son.

Christie weighs in at about 2:20 in the video, asking the woman to give her contact information to his staff.  Then he says, “But with all due respect to you and Isaac”…

Uh-oh…

“… this is the problem I’m trying to fix… The state sends in excess of 800 million of income tax  money every year to the Newark school system.  In excess of 800 million dollars.  It is outrageous to me, it makes my blood boil, that someone from the Newark school system would tell a mother, who is spending three or four hours a night trying to work her son into success, that we can’t do anything for them.  It’s outrageous…. Newark has twice the amount of administration of the average school district in New Jersey.”

Boom! Governor Awesome.

.

Did Governor Awesome Get Cold Feet?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that he was halting work on an $8.7 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson.  Here’s why:

The federal government and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ultimately each pledged $3 billion. But New Jersey, which had committed $2.7 billion to the tunnel, was responsible for anything over that.

And “anything over that” was ballooning before the digging even began.  Christie was faced with estimates of final costs ranging from $11 billion to $14 billion, implying the state’s $2.7 billion share could double or triple, and Governor Awesome made an adult decision.

Yes, it would be rilly rilly rilly nice to double the rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan.  Yes, the construction jobs would would be good for the economy and the increased rail capacity would boost housing values.  But the construction money has to come from somewhere, the state already is in a deep financial hole, and I was pleased but not surprised that Christie pulled the plug.

Then I was surprised but not pleased to hear, one day later, that the governor was waffling on the decision, after a meeting with federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“The fact that the ARC [Access to the Region's Core] project is not financially viable and is expected to dramatically exceed its current budget remains unchanged,” Christie said in a statement Friday. “However, this afternoon Secretary LaHood presented several options to potentially salvage a trans Hudson tunnel project. At the secretary’s request, I’ve agreed to have executive director of NJ Transit Jim Weinstein and members from his team work with U.S. Department of Transportation staff to study those options over the next two weeks.”

However this turns out, the waffling reflects badly on the Republican governor.  I generally have little use for Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, but I can’t argue with his statement today:

“Why we couldn’t have talked five weeks ago, or six weeks ago, I don’t understand.”

(The “we” is a nice touch — as near as I can tell, the Senator wasn’t actually in the meeting, he just went running to find a camera afterward.)

I don’t understand why Governor Christie would jeopardize his hard-won reputation for standing firm in the face of intense pressure. Presumably we’ll know more about what happened within a couple of weeks.

I met a remarkable young man recently — a six-year-old taking organ lessons at the church where I work.  I wrote about him for Patch.com’s Madison website.  Here’s how it starts:

His feet don’t reach the pedals.  His arms barely stretch to the top keyboard.  His pudgy little fingers seem dwarfed by the keys. But six-year-old Henry Marinovic of Madison is learning to play the organ.

“I’m actually pretty good,” he explained, accurately, shortly after I met him.

He has a piano at home, but the organ at Grace Episcopal Church is so much louder and cooler – all those buttons and stops.  His hands wander over the keyboard for a moment, producing a vigorous riff. I ask him if that’s a piece of music he has memorized, but his mother Amy says he was making it up.  “It’s called improvising,” Henry says helpfully.

Read the whole thing at Patch.com.  If you’re interested in reading more of my Patchwork, here’s a link to the complete oeuvre.  (What is Patch, you ask?  I’ve got an answer for that, too!)

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