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Scott Walker Equivocates On Previous Opposition To Same-Sex Marriage

Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker doesn’t want to take a definite position on same-sex marriage:

For years, Gov. Scott Walker has been a rock-solid proponent of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.

As Milwaukee County executive, he opposed efforts to provide health care benefits to the gay partners of county employees. He also spoke out in favor of a 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In 2010, he campaigned for governor as a supporter of traditional marriage. He also opposed a law that allowed gay couples to register with counties to get certain benefits, such as hospital visitation rights.

“My position has been clear,” Walker said Thursday.

Indeed, it was.

But that is no longer the case.

During a 12-minute news conference at a muddy and messy groundbreaking event in Oak Creek, the first-term Republican governor argued that his position on same-sex marriage is no longer relevant.

“It really doesn’t matter what I think now,” Walker said at one point. “It’s in the constitution.”

And it’s out of his hands, he suggested.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb has overturned the state’s constitutional amendment, but Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing that decision. Van Hollen is also raising the possibility of prosecutors charging county clerks who permit gay marriages.

“If the people voted to change something in the state’s constitution, I think it is right for the state’s attorney general to uphold the constitution,” Walker said, without explicitly stating whether he agreed with the idea of prosecuting county clerks.

Ultimately, he argued, the matter could be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state will follow that ruling.

But where is Walker on the issue now? He is up for re-election in just five months and he is considering a presidential bid in 2016.

“I don’t comment on everything out there,” he responded.

Except, of course, he has commented on this issue in the past. Like nearly every other Republican politicians, and until very recently many Democrats, Walker was a proponent of so-called “traditional marriage,” and opposed to efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in his state. At the time, of course, taking such a position was the politically smart thing to do not only inside the Republican Party, but with the electorate as a whole. That’s changed significantly in recent years, though, as poll after poll has shown majority support for marriage equality. The results are similar inside Wisconsin, with a recent Marquette University Law School poll showing that 55% of those polled support marriage equality and only 37% oppose it. Most recently, of course, a Federal Judge in Madison has declared the state’s marriage law unconstitutional and, in the time that has passed, couples throughout the state have been getting married.

Walker is deserving of criticism for refusing to take a stand on this issue now, of course, but it strikes me that there’s also something significant about the fact that he is refusing to stand by his previous opposition to marriage equality. It is a reflection that, even among Republican politicians, it is becoming politically risky to stand in opposition to something that increasing majorities support and countless numbers of courts have found to be a Constitutional right. Obviously, you’re not going to see the same kind of equivocation from Republicans in deeply red states where there’s less political risk, but Walker is in a very different situation. Recent polling has shown the race between him and Democratic nominee Mary Burke to be essentially a dead heat. In such a situation, and given the polling I’ve noted above, Walker obviously fears that sticking his neck out on this issue will hurt him in the polls. At the same time, though, he can’t come out and say he supports marriage equality without risking upsetting the Republican base. So, he equivocates. It’s not exactly a profile in courage, but it certainly seems to be a sign that the political momentum on this issue has shifted to such a degree that even Republicans are beginning to rethink their position on the issue.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Come down to the altar, Scotty, confess your sins and be redeemed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  2. It will be entertaining to see Republican politicians change their position in this issue in the coming years.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  3. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It will be entertaining to see Republican politicians change their position in this issue in the coming years.

    And even more entertaining as they begin denying they ever opposed marriage equality in the first place.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  4. Dave D says:

    I was in both Madison and Milwaukee last weekend while they were issuing marriage licenses during PRIDE to many gay couples. God didn’t rain down fire and brimstone and everything seemed to proceed as normal. Walker’s problem is he can’t run on any accomplishment besides watching Wisconsin’s economy continue to lag behind the rest of its neighbors. When the Minnesota republicans lamented not sweeping the state in 2010 and wrote the op-ed about how by 2014 we would see the differences between WI and MN due to conservative economic policies and boy were they right.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  5. beth says:

    I expect to see some conservative hack write a book questioning Reagan’s “very special friendship” with Tip O’Neil sometime soon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  6. stonetools says:

    I also expect him to get really quiet about Obamacare and Medicaid expansion also.
    The tea party chickens are coming in to roost!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  7. Tillman says:

    Walker is deserving of criticism for refusing to take a stand on this issue now, of course, but it strikes me that there’s also something significant about the fact that he is refusing to stand by his previous opposition to marriage equality. It is a reflection that, even among Republican politicians, it is not becoming politically risky to stand in opposition to something that increasing majorities support and countless numbers of courts have found to be a Constitutional right.

    Did you mean to insert that negative?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Gavrilo says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It will be entertaining to see Republican politicians change their position in this issue in the coming years.

    Really? Why? Didn’t you just tell us an hour ago that it doesn’t matter when or why Hillary Clinton changed her position on this issue?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. mantis says:

    @Gavrilo:

    Didn’t you just tell us an hour ago that it doesn’t matter when or why Hillary Clinton changed her position on this issue?

    He didn’t say it wasn’t entertaining.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  10. Gavrilo says:

    @mantis: True. He did say it was irrelevant though. I guess Doug is easily entertained.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. CSK says:

    Well, at least he’s not advocating the stoning to death of homosexuals, a la the execrable Scott Esk of Oklahoma.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Gavrilo:
    @Doug Mataconis:

    It will be entertaining to see Republican politicians change their position in this issue in the coming years.

    Really? Why? Didn’t you just tell us an hour ago that it doesn’t matter when or why Hillary Clinton changed her position on this issue?

    Actually it will be interesting to see if they – Republican politicians – can do it (make the change) effectively.

    Right now, gay and lesbian people are generally a Democratic constituency, so there’s not much to be gained there, however the problem will come with core Republican constituencies, for whom, support of gay marriage might cost GOP politicians votes or diminish turnout somewhat.

    That’s the difference between Democratic and Republican politicians on this issue – Democrats have very little to lose, while Republicans have a lot of explaining to do with respect to base religious conservatives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  13. @Gavrilo:

    I didn’t say I’d criticize them for it, I just said it will be entertaining

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  14. Dave D says:

    But he’s really good at traveling around and fundraising for his presidential hopes in 2016 so much so he is failing to even do the bare minimum of his job. The state republicans have been plagued by pay for play laws which only were shelved after exposed, sexual harrassment allegations of the second leading republican who had to be removed by his own party, numerous convictions and on going john doe probes, aides fired for saying terrible things about hispanics, The disasterous state economy, even worse when compared to next door, everything to do with the WEDC, and people are focusing on his stance on gay marriage. This man has done nothing in the past four years but bury the economy, refuse to expand medicaid, and use $650,000 to defend against legal probes. This man is touted by Republicans as a contender in 2016 it is mind boggling. However, he does have everything they look for: he’s rich and good at fund raising, he’ll bash unions and break them at the wheel, he has a healthy disdain for the poor and has been shown he can pretty much be bought by donors. But yes let’s all worry about whether or not he cares if two gentleman can marry one another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  15. Gavrilo says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I think you are absolutely right. There is a religiously based opposition to gay marriage that Republicans have to contend with that Democrats don’t. It’s real and it affects how Republican politicians react to the issue. If the gay vote was up for grabs, you’d probably see a much more diverse range of views in the Republican Party, but since it’s in the tank for the Democrats, there is really only downside, politically, to supporting gay marriage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  16. stonetools says:

    @Gavrilo:

    but since it’s in the tank for the Democrats, there is really only downside, politically, to supporting gay marriage.

    Er, how do you think the gay vote became “in the tank” for the Democrats?

    Let me give you a clue: anti-gay marriage constiutional amendments in the 2004 elections.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  17. grumpy realist says:

    Somehow I don’t think he has the gumption of the King of France:

    “Paris is worth a mass.”

    Of course, if he does sidle over to Teh Dark Side, it will be fun watching the Democratic candidate pummel him for being a wishy-washy double-talking nogoodnik unable to stand up for his own beliefs.

    Pass the popcorn.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  18. Kylopod says:

    I actually think a Republican’s position on this issue IS likely to matter more politically than a Democrat’s. In the Democratic Party there isn’t any significant constituency that is likely to bail if a candidate is seen as too pro-SSM. In the GOP, there is. A presidential candidate who supports it or is seen as “soft” on the issue could be quite effectively attacked from the right, particularly in states like Iowa and South Carolina. So a flip-flop by Walker is, to my mind, a much bigger gamble than one by Hillary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  19. stonetools says:

    I hope Burke kicks his a$$. Doug wants his preferred Party to see the light on the issue. I have a simpler position : vote for the candidate and the party that got it right the first time and suffered for being right when it was unpopular.

    I really don’t care whether Walker finds redemption on the issue. As a supporter of gay rights, I’ll be glad if he finally comes kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but as for getting my support for any expedient late turn, screw him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  20. Dave D says:

    @Kylopod: We’ve had SSM here in Iowa for 5 years, it matter in the 2010 midterms during the judge recalls, but that was about a year after it became legal. By 2012 the movement largely failed, so I doubt that the issue will make or break anyone here in the caucus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Ron Beasley says:

    Little Scotty is a Koch brothers owned weasel. I truly hope he loses in November so we weren’t ever have to worry about him ever being a presidential candidate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  22. Kylopod says:

    @Dave D: In 2012, the winner of the Iowa GOP caucuses was Rick Santorum. In 2008, it was Mike Huckabee. Granted, neither one went on to win the nomination, but I’d say social conservatism is far from dead in that state.

    I’m guessing the really serious Republican candidates in 2016 are going to take a sort of middle path on this issue, claiming it should be left to the states but they still believe marriage is between a man and woman, yadda yadda. Still, I think at least one of them (I could definitely see Huck, Santorum, or Perry going in this direction) will go all hardcore with “traditional marriage” and attack his opponents for not being sufficiently anti-SSM.

    Policy-wise, I doubt it’ll matter. Just about any Republican in the White House (Christie might be an exception) will prevent federal action supporting SSM, while the next Democratic president may well do something to bring it forward, whether through legislation or judicial appointments. But the so-cons still do have considerable influence in the presidential primaries; even if they don’t win themselves, they encourage the eventual nominee to move (and stay) rightward on the issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. KansasMom says:

    @Dave D: Ditto Kansas and it’s neighbors. Result? A toss-up in the governor’s race.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. An Interested Party says:

    Didn’t you just tell us an hour ago that it doesn’t matter when or why Hillary Clinton changed her position on this issue?

    It is one thing to have been a politician who was opposed to gay marriage but was for other rights for gay people, such as civil unions…it is quite another thing for a politician who was actively opposed to just about any rights for gay people and now, all of a sudden, doesn’t want to talk about gay marriage because he knows it may hurt him one way or the other…

    If the gay vote was up for grabs, you’d probably see a much more diverse range of views in the Republican Party, but since it’s in the tank for the Democrats…

    Hmmm…the black vote, the Asian-American vote, and, increasingly, the Hispanic vote are all also “in the tank for Democrats” along with the gay vote…perhaps if Republicans didn’t seem so hostile to all these groups, among others, they might have a better shot at getting their votes…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  25. argon says:

    What’s depressing is the polling suggesting that the candidates are about even. Seriously, WTF? After all the crap Walker pulled he’s still in the running?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Kylopod says:

    @An Interested Party:

    It is one thing to have been a politician who was opposed to gay marriage but was for other rights for gay people, such as civil unions…it is quite another thing for a politician who was actively opposed to just about any rights for gay people and now, all of a sudden, doesn’t want to talk about gay marriage because he knows it may hurt him one way or the other…

    That’s an excellent point, and it brings up something that often gets overlooked in these discussions, when the habit of many pundits is to lump all flip-flops on this issue together.

    Take Obama’s “evolving” position on the issue. Over the years I’ve heard many conservatives point to Obama’s views either to justify their own or suggest a double standard on how liberals treat opponents of SSM. For example, in 2010 New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino defended his anti-gay remarks by arguing that his position on the marriage issue was the same as Obama’s. More recently, Krauthammer assailed liberals for supporting the resignation of Brendan Eich because of his having given money to Prop 8, when Obama held the same views. That was actually incorrect: Obama always opposed Prop 8.

    And that brings me to the central point: Obama’s supposed opposition to SSM was always about as tepid as you could imagine. He consistently supported civil unions and opposed anti-SSM measures like Prop 8 and DOMA. When he flipped to explicitly supporting SSM in 2012, he didn’t change a single policy position as far as his presidential powers were concerned. He simply went from not (openly) approving of state-level efforts advancing SSM to (openly) approving of such efforts.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think his flip in 2012 was highly significant. It took the lid off the issue and made it acceptable for Democrats to openly support SSM, and aided in relegating anti-SSM views to the fringe. It may not have directly impacted policy, but I believe it has had a strong indirect effect.

    But it couldn’t have happened if many Dems weren’t already basically supporting SSM in all but name. It was a final step in a process that had been going on in the Democratic Party for over a decade, where the pols made significant expansions in the practical rights of gay people while avoiding turning off too many social conservatives by calling it “marriage.” The GOP simply does not have that level of preparation for making the shift, and it’s therefore going to take them a lot longer, because regardless of what individual Republican pols privately believe, anti-SSM views remain a strong force within the party in a way they no longer are for Democrats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0