Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman and current Gov. Chris Christie are both Republicans in a historically blue state; both were reelected to a second term. But the similarities stop there, as they governed with diametrically opposed philosophies when it came to social issues.
Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, a social moderate, looks with disdain at the current state of the Republican Party. According to North Jersey newspaper The Record, Whitman, disgusted by the rhetoric from her party’s presidential candidates this year, said she believes the best thing may be for the Republicans to “go down to flaming defeat.” In the interview Whitman said, “It would be entertaining if it weren’t so serious. Part of me wants to say, ‘Let’s take the most conservative candidate we can get, let’s go down to flaming defeat and then maybe people will figure out that people are really in the middle.’” Whitman served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. But her support for gay rights was always present. She opposed the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members and signed on to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage equality.
During his initial campaign for governor, Christie vowed that, although he was a fiscal conservative, he was a social moderate who would reach out to the Democrats and work together. Thus there was some cautious optimism when Christie was first elected governor in 2009 that he would govern in the Whitman style.
There were times in his first term when the governor was not averse to some causes important to the LGBT community — the 2011 Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and the 2013 law banning conversion therapy being the best examples. He signed into law one of the toughest antibullying laws in the country. Although not solely a LGBT concern, the law passed quickly through the legislature in large measure because of the cyber-bullying of Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide after being outed by his roommate.
But while he supported the antibullying bill he vigorously resisted marriage equality both in the courts and by vetoing legislation that would have legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the freedom to marry did not happen in New Jersey until Christie was forced to throw in the towel in the case of Garden State Equality v. Dow in October 2013. In GSE v. Dow, a lawsuit that sought to overturn the 2007 state Supreme Court decision permitting civil unions as an alternative to marriage, the Christie administration vigorously opposed the lawsuit. While GSE v. Dow was being heard in the courts, in 2012 the governor vetoed marriage equality legislation, claiming marriage was a union of one man and one woman.
Also in 2012, the governor vetoed legislation that would have created rules for New Jersey citizens who wish to conceive a child through a surrogate known as a "gestational carrier." The governor’s veto was a devastating blow to same-sex couples and adoption advocates across the state.
The marriage equality legal battle ultimately resulted in a crushing defeat for the governor when in September 2013, Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that New Jersey’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. But that did not stop Christie’s crusade against equality. His administration continued its futile battle until a unanimous state Supreme Court agreed a month later not to overturn Judge Jacobson’s ruling and the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples began.
In June 2013, in the midst of his reelection campaign, Christie surprisingly signed into law a bill banning conversion therapy on minors in the Garden State, making New Jersey the only state besides California to adopt such a law. He admitted to CNN that despite the Catholic Church's stance, he has "always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual." He also stated that he did not believe being gay was a sin. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the extent of doing and saying the right thing as it relates to the LGBT community.
So by the end of his first term, the governor had a very mixed record on LGBT issues. Once reelected, his focus shifted from New Jersey to the national stage and Christie dramatically swung to the political right, leaving no room for even the appearance of being tolerant on LGBT issues.
In January 2014 the governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate without undergoing costly, dangerous, and in some cases unavailable surgery. The governor's specious claim that his veto was based on his concern that people might change their birth certificate for fraudulent purposes not only has no empirical factual basis but is undercut by the fact that the U.S. State Department does not require surgery to change a gender marker on a U.S. passport and has encountered none of Christie's “concerns.”
In 2015, with the governor now in full campaign mode, he once again vetoed legislation aimed at allowing gestational carrier agreements and legislation that would have allowed transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate without undergoing surgery.
How far Christie has fallen from the “moderate” Republican tree is evidenced not only by his recent actions and comments but also by Hazel Gluck, a longtime New Jersey Republican stalwart and confidante to two former GOP governors. Gluck, who was a state transportation and insurance commissioner and a top lobbyist, joined forces with Garden State Equality and other same-sex marriage advocates in 2012 to try to persuade Christie to sign marriage equality legislation. While working with Garden State Equality, Gluck came out. She admitted that it would be near impossible to get Christie to reverse himself on marriage. She could not have been more spot-on with that prediction. Even though she told Christie, “I contributed to your campaign. I helped you run for office. I’m still the same person. Look at me and tell me that I don’t have the same rights that you have,” he ignored her plea as well as the pleas of thousands of New Jersey LGBT citizens and their allies.
Most recently, the governor again showed his pandering to the right and his lack of empathy for transgender people. He was asked about a California law that allows transgender children to use the bathroom facilities in accordance with their gender identity. Christie responded by joking that life is simpler in New Jersey, “Men go to men’s rooms, women go to women’s rooms, and there really shouldn’t be a whole lot of confusion about that — public accommodations. And I don’t think we should be making life more confusing for our children.” Leaving aside the fact that it’s the law in New Jersey that transgender students can use the bathroom facility consistent with their gender identity or expression, the governor then went on to compare the “confusion” he saw in public accommodations to the confusion children feel as a result of terrorism. How low does a Republican really need to go to get the nomination? Is it by comparing transgender children and terrorism as equals?
It is behavior like this that can only cause one to be struck by the irony that the governor who signed one of the toughest antibullying laws is nothing but a bully.