Steven Walters: GOP leaders pivot after marriage ruling

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

In politics, it’s called The Pivot. When the news is bad, or if you don’t want to answer the question, ignore it. Change the subject.

Wisconsin Republican leaders are leaving divots as they pivot from U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision that voided the state Constitution’s ban of same-sex marriages.

Many of the same Republicans who drafted the constitutional amendment, pushed it through two consecutive legislative sessions, and then in 2006 got voters to approve it, had no reaction to Crabb’s ruling and no defense of their old position.

The May 15-18 statewide poll by Marquette University’s Law School may offer one reason for the GOP’s silence: They may be on the losing side of public opinion months before the Nov. 4 election.

In the Marquette poll, 55 percent those surveyed supported “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally,” and 37 percent did not. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 offered the most support, 74 percent to 20 percent. Even those over age 60 supported those marriages, 46 percent to 45 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 3.7 percent.

So, who is doing The Pivot?

Start with Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who supported the constitutional change to ban same-sex marriage and who now tells reporters his opinion on that issue “doesn’t matter.”\

“I voted for it,” Walker told reporters. “I’m not talking about changing a position, just pointing out the only way this will change—the voters had their say in 2006—it would only be changed if ultimately a higher court … would change it or eventually if the voters would change it.”

Hey, Walker suggested, let’s talk about how all but ending collective bargaining for public employees helped local governments.

Also pivoting with silence on the controversial court ruling were the two top Republican legislators—Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington.

Aides said neither issued any response to Crabb’s ruling and pointed to statements by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is appealing Crabb’s decision and got her to issue an order staying her decision. Between Crabb’s ruling and the stay, more than 500 same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses.

Vos even took a step to broaden the GOP tent on the issue when he personally recruited the first openly gay Republican candidate for the Legislature in Wisconsin history—Dodgeville Mayor Todd Novak, one of four GOP candidates trying to represent the Assembly’s 51st District.

Novak and his partner of 17 years are raising two teenage children.
In a WisconsinEye candidate interview, Novak said voters don’t care about his sexuality.

“That issue is not an issue, as I’m out on the campaign trail, that people are talking about,” Novak said. “It’s property taxes, education … ”

Former Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz of Richland Center, who is retiring after 32 years in the Legislature, explained his eight-year pivot on the issue. As Senate leader, he pushed the constitutional amendment through the Senate.

“At the time, a majority of Wisconsinites supported it, including my own constituents,” Schultz said in a statement. “At the time, it also represented my personal views.”
But Schultz said his own views—and those of a majority of Wisconsin residents—have evolved since 2006.

“I would like to think that we, as a society, possess a willingness and ability to evolve when presented with new facts and evidence … A clear majority now feel people are entitled to basic rights and privileges, regardless of orientation, because it most likely affects someone we know.”

One GOP leader condemning Crabb’s decision—and Republicans who won’t discuss it—is Assistant Senate Majority Leader Glenn Grothman of West Bend. He is one of three Republicans running for the 6th District seat in Congress trying to replace retiring Republican Congressman Tom Petri.

In a WisconsinEye candidate interview, Grothman called Crabb’s ruling “horrific.”

“And I think it’s embarrassing that more Republicans aren’t speaking out on the issue,” added Grothman, who said the nation’s history is “primarily” Christian.

When a federal judge rules that same-sex marriage must be legalized, Grothman said, “in essence, you’re telling young people that it’s no big deal about homosexuality and, really, the younger generation should … consider it an option. I think that’s a horrible message.”

On this issue, Grothman won’t pivot.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com.

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