There's an old axiom in politics that goes like this: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."
For many years, the Republican Party has taken shameless political advantage of intolerance toward gay Americans, steadfastly working to enshrine discrimination against them in our laws and even in our state constitutions, including here in Wisconsin. It's shameless because the GOP likes to portray itself as the party of individual freedom. But the party that thinks you should be allowed to carry a gun into the state Assembly chambers doesn't think that two people who love each other should have their family recognized by the state. Go figure.
Now, in truth, Democrats weren't always a whole lot better. It was President Clinton who signed the stupidly titled "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996, and that awful law was passed with lots of Democratic votes in Congress. Even as late as two years ago, President Obama was still officially opposed to same-sex marriage. He finally expressed personal support for it in 2012, but has done little to back that up with action.
Wisconsin Dems have a better record, and the national party has figured it out, if belatedly. Back in 2005, the overwhelming majority of legislative Democrats voted against the resolution that sent a constitutional amendment to the voters that banned same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. This year, all the major statewide Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general support Judge Barbara Crabb's ruling striking it down. And Bill Clinton has renounced his support for the DOMA. What you can say for the Dems is that they saw the parade heading in another direction and, by God, they raced to the front of it.
But the Republicans? They're so far away from the parade that they can't even hear the marching band. Republican Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen is doing all that he can to stop the tide of history by filing motions to halt same sex marriages taking place in Madison and Milwaukee and all the other places they're popping up around the state. It's an absolute waste of taxpayer resources, and also of GOP political capital.
This train has left the station. Public opinion on same-sex marriage has reversed itself in only eight years. While the state constitutional amendment banning it passed with 59% of the vote in 2006, a recent poll shows a similar percentage now favor allowing same-sex couples to tie the knot. Twenty-seven states now permit gay marriage by law or through court action, though licensing has been stayed in a half-dozen states pending appeals.
It would be smart for Republicans to quietly declare defeat and move on to other issues. Van Hollen's actions only remind state voters of how far out of touch today's Republicans are. And don't get me started about immigration. You'd think these guys would just drop the shovel. Instead, they're bringing in a backhoe.
On Friday evening, Dianne and I and a friend had dinner at an outdoor cafe two blocks from the City-County Building, where same-sex marriages were licensed and conducted well into the night. At a table next to us were four of the most straight-looking, upper middle class and middle-aged guys I've ever seen. We struck up a conversation. Turned out they were from Neenah and in town for a bike ride the next day. I can't be certain, but they struck me, at least demographically, as the kind of guys who almost surely would vote Republican most of the time.
It was a beautiful late spring evening, and after awhile two young women in nice dresses carrying flowers and wearing huge grins stopped at the restaurant. It was clear that they had just been married. People started to applaud spontaneously. Guess who led the cheers? The four guys from Neenah.
If the Republicans need any more proof that they're on the wrong side of history, they're more hopeless than I think.