HRC Blog

A Response to Gov. Christie’s Remarks Regarding Marriage Equality Vote

Rev. Dr. Traci C. WestGovernor Chris Christie, in remarks yesterday in which he said he would veto any marriage equality legislation passed through the state legislature, made the following puzzling statement in reference to putting the rights of a minority up for a majority vote: "The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South."

The following guest blog post comes from Rev. Dr. Traci C. West, a leading religious voice in New Jersey and Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School in Madison: In an apparent reference to the historic freedom struggles for racial and economic equality that were waged by courageous activists during the 1960s, Governor Christie was quoted in the media as stating: "The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South."

Which group of “people” is he referring to? Governor Christie’s statement is not only painfully offensive, but also shockingly ignorant of American history that includes Jim Crow segregation popularly supported throughout the South for over a century. In his reference to “people” who would have been “happy to have a referendum on civil rights” Governor Christie seems to be condoning racist Jim Crow practices that upheld segregation, inequality, and the disenfranchisement of African Americans because a majority of the people in Alabama, Mississippi and elsewhere in the South would have gladly voted to maintain Jim Crow had they been given the opportunity to do so. Indeed, the only “people” who would have been happy to have had a referendum on the civil rights of blacks in the 1950s and 1960s segregated south were the white segregationists who were the majority and the only ones allowed to vote. The disenfranchised black people who were victimized by Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan terrorism that reinforced those laws would certainly not have been “happy” about it. The courageous ministers and activists who risked their safety, their livelihoods, and in some cases, their very lives, to overturn those racist laws obviously would not have been “happy” about such a referendum.

It defiles the essential moral ideal of equal regard for neighbor that holds the fabric our diverse state and nation together when the Governor suggests that some of the most fundamental human rights of black southerners during that time, as well as those of gay and lesbian New Jersey citizens today should be determined by popular whim. In making this analogy between his opposition to marriage equality and his apparent opposition to the activism of those heroic activists who fought for racial, political, and economic equality in the mid-twentieth century, Governor Christie allies himself with inequality and injustice that degrades the moral health and well-being of all of the people of New Jersey regardless of sexual orientation, marital status, or racial/ethnic background.

Rev. West is the author of several books, including Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women's Lives Matter and Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence, and Resistance Ethics. She also edited Our Family Values: Same-sex Marriage and Religion. She has written several articles on violence against women, racism, clergy ethics, sexuality and other justice issues in church and society.

Also signed:

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Asbury Parrk, NJ
A retired United Methodist Minister

Dr. Lillie J. Edwards
Professor of History and African-American Studies
Drew University (Madison, NJ)

Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies
Princeton University

Bishop Jacquelyn Holland
Mid-Atlantic Jurisdiction
Unity Fellowship Church Movement
Newark, NJ

Dr. Althea Spencer Miller
Asst. Prof. of New Testament
Drew University, The Theological School

Kesha Moore,
Associate Professor of Sociology,
Drew University

Elias Ortega-Aponte
Assistant Professor of Afro-Latino/a Religions and Cultural Studies
Drew University Theological School

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