Gov. Scott Walker has a history of forcefully opposing same-sex marriage in Wisconsin, but in the wake of the state’s ban on gay marriages being found unconstitutional, the Republican leader said Thursday that his own views about the issue do not matter.

Walker, who is running for re-election this year and eyeing a bid for president in 2016, continued to largely duck questions about the state’s ban he voted for in 2006, as hundreds of gay couples wed in the last week and polls show public attitudes shifting in favor of allowing same-sex marriages.

“The last thing Walker wants to do is get into a debate about same-sex marriage,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Why? Because he’ll lose.”

Walker campaigned nine years ago strongly in support of the ban.

“We must change the Wisconsin state constitution to say that marriage is to be between one man and one woman,” Walker said in November 2005 during a brief run for governor that year. “My belief in this position is even stronger today.”

Walker joined with 59 percent of voters statewide to add the ban to the state constitution in 2006. Even though he pushed for it to be approved then, Walker now says his position is irrelevant.

“My position has been clear. I voted in the past. It really doesn’t matter,” Walker said in response to questions about the issue following a campaign event Thursday.

He also previously voted as a member of the state Assembly for a bill in 1997 to prohibit same-sex marriages and declare those conducted in other states to be invalid.

As Milwaukee County executive in 2009, Walker vetoed a measure to provide benefits to same-sex partners of county workers. And once elected governor, in 2011, he fired the state’s attorney defending Wisconsin’s domestic registry law. The state Supreme Court is currently weighing whether the registry violates the state ban on gay marriage.

But in May, Walker said he doesn’t think it will be an issue in this year’s governor’s race.

“Voters don’t talk to me about that,” Walker said then, sidestepping questions about whether he still personally supported the ban. “They talk to me about the economy; they talk to me about their kids’ schools; they talk to me about making sure we keep our finances in order.”

Walker’s reluctance to stick to his hard-line position may be explained by recent polls showing growing public support for same-sex marriages.

A Marquette University law school poll released in May found that 55 percent of registered Wisconsin voters favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. That was up from 44 percent in October 2012.

Every demographic group in the May survey clearly favored marriage equality, except for three key Walker constituencies — Republicans, conservatives and frequent church-goers, said poll director Charles Franklin.

In the last five to 10 years, the overall shift in favor of gay marriage prompted many Democrats — including President Barack Obama — and a few Republicans to drop their opposition to same-sex unions, Franklin said.

But for Walker to do that would risk cooling the enthusiasm of core supporters he needs to knock on doors, raise money and vote for him, Franklin said. At the same time, to speak out loudly against marriage rights could stir up the growing majority that support those rights.

“One strategy is to not say anything,” Franklin said.

Walker’s likely Democratic opponent in this year’s race for governor, Mary Burke, supports legalizing same-sex marriage and said she voted against the 2006 constitutional ban.

“Finally recognizing that committed, loving Wisconsin couples have the freedom to marry whomever they choose represents an important step forward for our state,” Burke said in a statement Thursday. “From strengthening our communities to making our state more competitive economically — marriage equality makes Wisconsin stronger.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued over the ban in February on behalf of eight same-sex couples. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb last week struck down the ban as unconstitutional, but did not give direction to state officials about what to do.

Sixty of Wisconsin’s 72 county clerks were issuing licenses to same-sex couples as of midday Thursday, but couples had applied in only 42 of those counties for at least 637 licenses. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Thursday that those clerks risk being criminally charged by local district attorneys if they believe they are breaking the law by doing so. Van Hollen continues to ask both Crabb and a federal appeals court to put the ruling striking down the ban on hold while he appeals the case, a move that would force clerks to stop issuing licenses.

Both Republican and Democratic clerks, in both Republican- and Democratic-voting counties, are issuing the licenses.

State Journal reporters Steven Verburg and Nick Heynen and Associated Press reporter Carrie Antlfinger contributed to this report.

(12) comments

Enlightenment
Enlightenment

Coward!

His opinion doesn't matter if it's not good for campaign funds and votes, but it's OK for pushing the ALEC agenda.

If his opinion does not matter on this topic, then drop the legal challenges to the ruling that Wisconsin's ban on same sxx marriage is unconstitutional.

Visitor33
Visitor33

Barney summed it up quite well. You call him a coward light, yet if he speaking out you would be calling him hateful and everything else.
As far as dropping lawsuits, I believe that it's the job of the state attorney general to challenge the legality of different laws and not just quit because of public opinion.

Enlightenment
Enlightenment

He's a coward for not maintaining his stance on the issue he earlier used to get votes. Now he sees he may not get enough votes with the same position so he is distancing himself from the issue. He is a coward in the political arena and will say (or not say) whatever way he needs to get more votes. If he did speak out on this issue, I'd say he is off base and that issue alone is reason for not voting for him. I don't have hatred for elected officials, only disgust at times.

I too agree it's the state attorney's job and actually sympathized with him for having to defend a law that is wrong. That was until his recent off-color comments regarding same sxx marriage. He can appeal, but instead of countless and senseless appeals, there comes a time when he should admit defeat and stop the waste of resources to defend an unconstitutional law.

Visitor33
Visitor33

Light -he has maintained his position, it's even stated in this article that his position is well known. He will walk softly around it, just like Burke is doing around act 10. Saying enough to keep the interest of their political base, but not too much to implode their campaign.

Enlightenment
Enlightenment

Visitor, yes, cowards for not being straight up and in your words, "walk softly" to avoid imploding. Put it all out there so people know where a candidate stands on an issue so if the issue is important to the voter, they know what they're voting for.

Visitor33
Visitor33

Walking softly around a topic and not being straight up are two entirely different things. He has been straight up, finding his position on the topic is pretty easy to find. If he was changing his position to appease voters, then you could say he isn't being straight up.
If a person couldn't figure out where he stands on this issue, it would be pretty obvious that the issue wasn't all that important to the person given how much info is out there pertaining to it.

Enlightenment
Enlightenment

I understand where you're coming from, but my point is that Walker and all politicians need to put all the cards on the table. Don't quietly forget to discuss what you stand for when you're campaigning because it is wrong or less than popular.

Visitor33
Visitor33

You would then have to say ALL politicians are cowards. Washington Post has an article about how democrats are trying to distance themselves from Obama, they may have the same beliefs, but are "walking softly" around it. I wouldn't expect any policitian to run around shouting about something unpopular. He would be a coward if he were to completely flip his position solely for political reasons, however, he's not doing that.

Enlightenment
Enlightenment

Yes, you're right. Basically all politicians are cowards and are just playing the game of getting elected, which is why I am strongly in favor of campaign reform. Eliminate the corporate personhood BS, eliminate the corporate donors and special interest donors, reduce the campaign contribution limits per person, and make the elections about the people and their vote, not the financial gains of select businesses or industries. Some politicians are worse than others, and sometimes politicians actually have an accomplishment that is worthwhile, but I think pandering by elected officials needs to be curbed.

Thundercloud
Thundercloud

Really. Another lie.

Barney
Barney


“My position has been clear. I voted in the past. It really doesn’t matter,” Walker said..." - I'm glad to see that the Governor understands the democratic process. We each get a vote, and we all must abide by the decision that is reached, no matter who we are or what we personally believe. I wish everyone would understand this.

ECresident2
ECresident2

Barney, is absolutely right. It DOESNT matter how any of us feel about this law whether for, or against. All it does is start up trouble once anyone voices their feelings towards others. The law is the law as much as anyone may, or may not like it!

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