If you have any doubt that opposition to gay marriage has faded as a viable position for GOP officials and candidates outside red states, you need look no further than Wisconsin, where a conservative favorite, Gov. Scott Walker, has thrown in the towel. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
Gov. Scott Walker backed away from his previous support for the state ban on gay marriage passed in 2006, saying he didn’t know if it violated the U.S. Constitution, would still be approved by voters today or would amount to a big change for the state’s values and economy if overturned.
Making clear he wanted no part of this legal battle in an election year, the Republican governor said he was focused on other priorities. Though as governor Walker is one of the defendants in the lawsuit, he said gay marriage was an issue for [Attorney General J.B.] Van Hollen and the federal judge, not him.
“Any federal judge has got to look at that law not only with respect to the state’s constitution but what it means in terms of the U.S. Constitution, as well. Again, I’m not going to pretend to tell a federal judge in that regard what he or she should do about it,” Walker said. “…I don’t know what (allowing gay marriage) means. Voters don’t talk to me about that. They talk to me about the economy. They talk to me about their kids’ schools.”
And that is with regard to a state ban. Imagine how uninterested Walker and other GOP presidential contenders may be when it comes to weighing in on the issue. Since the Supreme Court has essentially sent the issue back to states, there really is no need to opine on the issue if you are a candidate for federal office.
Walker isn’t advocating in favor of gay marriage, nor are most Republicans, but they are saying this is an issue that, frankly, people can decide for themselves. It is not a matter on which they want to expend political capital. Walker would have been on solid ground and perhaps protected his right flank by asserting that voters should decide the issue through referendums or state legislatures, not activist courts. But his stance does suggest how far the country and even Republicans have come on this issue.
When the Republican presidential contest begins in Iowa, it will be interesting to see if other candidates follow Walker’s hands-off attitude or pander to the caucus-goers. They can use all the fiery rhetoric they like, but the issue was decided by the state Supreme Court five years ago. Despite a backlash that ousted three judges, gay marriage remains legal in Iowa. What would a candidate do — other than speechify on the issue — to change that? Frankly, a conservative who believes in the 10th Amendment would bristle at the idea that a presidential candidate should tell Iowans what they should do with state marriage laws.
And it is not just Iowa. NBC reports that “besides Oregon and Pennsylvania, these states allow gay marriage: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Three other states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples: Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin. The trend toward gay marriage has picked up steam. Half of the states where same-sex couples can legally marry passed their laws in 2013.” By 2016, the number of states allowing gay marriage is almost certain to climb. (“Meanwhile, judges in 11 states have issued rulings in favor of same-sex marriage, but many of those rulings have been stayed as they proceed to appellate courts: Judges have struck down gay marriage bans in Arkansas, Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. In Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, judges have issued more limited pro-marriage rulings.”)
In a span of just four years, the GOP nomination battle will have gone from a political contest in which candidates jockeyed to sign “traditional” marriage pledges to one in which the issue for all intents and purposes is gone. The pace of change may not be fast enough for some gay marriage advocates, but for a social change this significant, the acceptance of gay marriage has operated at lightning speech. Gay marriage advocates have much to be proud of. They won.