Unless you’re living under a rock, you probably know that today is the day that Wisconsin voters go to the polls in an election to recall Scott Walker, the extremist Tea Party governor who ended half a century of collective bargaining, demonized public employees, and turned that state into what Dan Kaufman, writing for the New York Times Magazine, described as “the most politically divisive place in America.”
While Walker’s attack on unions, public sector workers, women, the environment, Wisconsin’s transportation system, and middle class have all received a great deal of attention, something that’s gotten a great deal less media play thus far is Walker’s extreme anti-LGBT views.
In 2009, under the leadership of then-Governor Jim Doyle and the statewide LGBT group Fair Wisconsin, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation with an existing constitutional same-sex marriage and civil union ban to legislatively enact domestic partnership protections for LGBT couples. Just four months after he took over in January 2011, Scott Walker attacked Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry, calling it unconstitutional in light of the amendment’s prohibition of all unions “substantially similar” to marriage. He refused to allow the state to continue defending it against a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-gay group, forcing Fair Wisconsin to step in and defend the registry. Fortunately, WFA’s bogus lawsuit was defeated, but Scott Walker’s message to LGBT Wisconsinites was clear: your lives, your loves, and your families mean nothing to me and nothing to the State of Wisconsin as long as I’m governor.
If Walker is successfully recalled today, he will be replaced with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a man with a longstanding record of support for the state’s LGBT community and a “champion for equality,” according to Fair Wisconsin’s Katie Belanger.
Even if he survives the recall, Walker’s days in office could still be numbered. He appears to be the target of a long-running FBI/Department of Justice “John Doe” criminal investigation into alleged campaign finance abuses, embezzlement of veterans funds, and other malfeasance among his staff members and inner circle during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive. Should the criminal probe unseat him — rather than the recall — he would be succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, a former television news anchor who just happens to be a far-right evangelical and an avowed anti-LGBT extremist.
When the National Organization for Marriage made its ill-advised stop in Madison during its 2010 “Summer for Marriage” tour, then-candidate Kleefisch gleefully addressed the sparse crowd of NOM supporters alongside Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown, Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino, and WFA leader Julaine Appling (the most visible anti-gay bigot in Wisconsin). She pledged during her campaign that if elected, she would use her conservative Christian principles when making public policy decisions. And perhaps most infamously, in a 2010 radio interview she called marriage equality a “fiscal back-breaker” and said that allowing loving and committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry would lead to marriages between human beings and dogs, tables, and clocks. (Audio below)
If the possibility of Wisconsin having its own version of Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann sitting in the governor’s office frightens you — and it should — then today’s recall election matters a great deal. If you live in Wisconsin, stop reading this article right now and go vote, provided you haven’t already done so. If you don’t live in Wisconsin, take a minute to remind any of your friends and family members who do that they need to vote today. The future of Wisconsin’s LGBT community may very well depend on it.