Chris Christie Continues To Defend Comment Linking Gay Marriage Referendum To Civil Rights

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still clarifying a comment he made last Tuesday linking a possible gay marriage referendum in the state to the civil rights movement.

"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," he said last Tuesday. Christie favors a ballot referendum for gay marriage, while Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate have pledged to pass a gay marriage bill.

"The political climate in the South didn't give them the option to have a referendum back then," he said Monday at a press conference in the statehouse, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. "They wished they would have had the option, but the political climate did not permit it, meaning they would not win."

Christie said "numbnuts like [Assemblyman] Reed Gusciora should be ashamed of themselves." Gusciora, who is gay, compared Christie to segregationist Govs. Lester Maddox and George Wallace.

Christie added that African-American leaders he met with earlier understood his comments weren't meant to offend.

Christie's comparison has drawn sharp criticism.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is African-American, said that he wouldn't have had the same opportunities if civil rights had been put to a vote. "Frankly I wouldn't be where I am today. So it seems to me just sad," he said Thursday on WNYC to Brian Lehrer. "This is not about a choice. It's about a fundamental right, and the 14th Amendment is very clear. It says, 'equal protections under the law' and right now in America we have second-class citizenship set up where certain Americans can have privileges that certain Americans do not enjoy, and that is just wrong."

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) said the governor needed a "history lesson."

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, when marchers were beaten by state and local police, strongly objected to Christie's comparison. "We would never have won [with a referendum]," he said Monday in Trenton, according to PolitickerNJ. (Christie said he'd be willing to meet with Lewis.)

"If two women or two men want to get married, that is a question of human dignity and of human rights," said Lewis. "The day will come when people look back at this and say 'we were just silly.'"

UPDATE: Christie apologized for his comments Tuesday night. "But listen what I will say as long as we're on this topic is I also recognize that my job, one of my jobs as Governor, is to clearly communicate to people what I'm thinking, every time I open my mouth. And I try to be very good about being very direct about what I say so that there's no ambiguity but obviously when I was talking last week at the town hall meeting about the civil rights movement in the South, I wasn't clear enough. I just wasn't," he said. "And what I did was, by saying those things, I left them open to misinterpretation and obviously there are some folks out there whose feelings I hurt or sensibilities I offended. And I apologize for that, because that's my job. My job is to clearly communicate all the time. And so to those folks out there who were somehow offended or concerned about the ambiguity in my statement, I apologize for that because very clearly what I was trying to say, I said yesterday at the press conference about 5 or 6 times."