New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie surprised both allies and opponents of the LGBT community this week by nominating an openly gay justice to his state’s Supreme Court. Christie also nominated First Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Law and Public Safety and former Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division Phillip H. Kwon, who would be the first Asian American on the court.
“I am extraordinarily proud to announce these two historic nominations to the New Jersey State Supreme Court,” said Governor Chris Christie. “Bruce and Phil are each accomplished and talented individuals with skilled legal minds who are highly respected in the legal community. Just as importantly, each of them has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to serving their state and communities.”
“A few minutes ago, just before announcing his two new Supreme Court nominees, Governor Christie called me on my cell phone to tell me he is nominating Bruce Harris to the New Jersey Supreme Court,” Garden State Equality chair, Steven Goldstein said Monday. “As I told the Governor right then and there, you could have picked me up off the floor.”
Harris — who is the mayor of Chatham Borough N.J. — will be the third African American justice on the bench, but the first openly gay justice, according to Goldstein. According to the Victory Fund, Harris is the nation’s first openly gay Republican non-incumbent elected mayor. New Jersey was the first state with an openly gay governor after then-governor James McGreevey came out as gay while in office in 2004. New Jersey currently has two openly gay Assembly members: Reed Gusciora and Tim Eustace.
“When I met with Governor Christie in 2010 at his request, he told me that though we would differ on some issues like marriage equality, he viewed the LGBT community as an important part of New Jersey, and that he wanted his Administration to have a good working relationship with Garden State Equality. That has been the case every step of the way,” Goldstein said. “To be clear, the Governor and his staff were invaluable in helping us pass the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the nation’s strongest anti-bullying law that the governor signed in January 2011.”
New Jersey gay activists have been advocating for the passage of a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in that state, much like neighboring state New York did in 2011. Legislative leaders in both houses have made the bill a priority, giving it the number ’1′ in both the Senate and Assembly.
Though the new developments are welcomed, Goldstein cautioned same-sex marriage supporters against reading too much into the action.
“I recognize, and caution everyone, that it would be unwise to read any change here in the Governor’s position on marriage equality; he has said in past months and years that he would veto the bill, and we take him at his word,” Goldstein said in a statement. “We will fight hard every minute of every day to win marriage equality in New Jersey. Nothing will deter us.”
According to Goldstein, Christie is the first Republican governor in American history to nominate an openly gay man to the highest court of his or her state.
“New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the future of the Republican Party,” said R. Clarke Cooper, Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans. “He is successfully turning New Jersey around, is a powerful voice for conservative principles, and his inclusive attitude, most recently demonstrated by appointing Mayor Harris to the state Supreme Court, represents today’s GOP voter”
“This appointment is consistent with Governor Christie’s strong support for nondiscrimination, including signing the strongest anti-bullying legislation in the nation,” Cooper continued. “As the New Jersey legislature considers passing marriage equality this session, Log Cabin Republicans remain hopeful Governor Christie will continue his inclusive leadership by agreeing with Republican champions across the country that freedom means freedom for everybody.”