Though it remains unclear whether Chris Christie will seek presidency in 2012, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins says the New Jersey governor’s support for an anti-bullying initiative could discourage social conservatives from voting for him if he does run.
Following last year’s senseless suicides of Rutgers University gay teen Tyler Clementi, bullied high school student Phoebe Prince and several other harassed teens, Christie signed what many have called the toughest bullying legislation in the United States. The law, which went into effect this school year, requires all public schools to enact extensive anti-bullying policies, step up staff training, and report each instance of bullying to the state within one day of when educators learn of the incident from a student victim. With the new legislation, anonymous tipsters can report lunch-line taunts to police officials.
Supporting a comprehensive law could cost Christie votes from social conservatives, Perkins explained to Travis Waldron ThinkProgress, the blog of the liberal Center for American Progress.
“While Perkins said there were other issues that would affect Christie’s popularity with social conservatives more,” Waldron wrote, “he suggested that their opposition to such laws could be a hang-up for Christie were he to run for president.”
While Perkins agreed that “no child should go to school and be bullied for any reason,” he said such a law will cause problems when it is “used to advance a particular view of sexual orientation and leads to the bullying by teachers and administrators of other students.” (RELATED: Lady Gaga: Bullying should become illegal)
In 2009, the Family Research Council controversially suggested that broadly identifying “anti-gay bullying” would not be appropriate if the criticism involves stating that homosexuality hurts both gays and our culture as a whole.*
“[L]et’s be clear. It’s not ‘bullying’ to tell the truth in love — which is that homosexual conduct is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large,” reads the organization’s statement. The Family Research Council also asserts that it is possible to abandon homosexuality and the gay lifestyle.
“The most compassionate thing we can do for people struggling with this lifestyle is to debunk the lie that they’re born ‘gay’ and can never change,” reads the statement. “Instead we should assure them that change is possible for those who seek it.”
During a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club, Perkins told reporters, “I think there is a good field of candidates to choose from [for president.] I think Chris Christie has done some really good things but that’s relative if we consider where he’s at. New Jersey, it doesn’t take a lot to do good things up there.”
Drawing a laugh or two from the crowd, Perkins added that Christie’s support from liberals and moderates on specific issues could be a stumbling block if he were to become a presidential candidate.
“He’s made some very questionable appointments of some key positions. He has some backing from individuals who are clearly on the other side of most social issues so I think he would have a difficult time gaining support from social conservatives,” Perkins continued.
On Tuesday Fox News cited unnamed sources in reporting that Christie will not run for president. But the self-proclaimed “kid from Jersey” didn’t confirm anything during his appearance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
After an audience member begged him to run, Christie responded, “I hear exactly what you’re saying and I feel the passion with which you say it and it touches me. But by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason also has to reside within me.”
If Christie does choose to run, he will campaign during a time when anti-gay bullying and school harassment continue to be a pervasive nationwide problem. A little more than a week ago, gay Buffalo teen Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life after years of relentless bullying, including classmates telling him to kill himself and saying that the world would be a better place without him. Rodemeyer also received cruel, anonymous online messages from particularly aggressive bullies.
One swipe read, “JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND [sic] UGLY. HE MUST DIE!”
An equally heartless note read, “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more [sic] happier!”
Before ending his life, Rodemeyer reportedly took to the Internet and wrote, “I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens …What do I have to do so people will listen to me?”
After Rodemeyer’s death, singer Lady Gaga called on political officials to make bullying a federal crime.
“Jamey Rodemeyer, 14 yrs old, took his life because of bullying,” the performance artist tweeted last week. “Bullying must become be [sic] illegal. It is a hate crime.”
Some have praised Lady Gaga and Chris Christie for advocating legal action against bullies, but others say it is an unproductive approach.
Citing her own experiences with bullies, Forbes columnist Kiri Blakeley wrote Monday of running into her high school bully at a reunion many years after memorable harassment. The “solidly built girl” had no memory of making fun of Blakeley, who still argues that it’s possible to prevent bullying without law enforcement.
“Did I want this girl in jail for bullying? No. I just wanted it to stop,” Blakeley wrote.
*This article has been updated to clarify the position of the Family Research Council.