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Gay Rights, Wisconsin Style

October 31, 2013

A great article by Jack Craver.  In part he writes the following.

The first state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation was  signed by a Republican. Wisconsin Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus approved the landmark  legislation after it had passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly and  Senate in 1982.

“The Democrats passed it to embarrass him,” recalled former Dreyfus aide Bill  Kraus in an interview in August. “They didn’t think he’d sign it. But he signed  it in a minute.”

It seems to defy political logic that in 1982, when mainstream attitudes  about homosexuality were not nearly as positive as they are today, Democrats  perceived gay rights as an issue they could use to their benefit. More  confounding is that a Republican governor decided to support the initiative  himself.

But Kraus said that the interest groups that turned many Republicans into  culture warriors over the next two decades were not yet a factor in Wisconsin  politics when Dreyfus.

“The Evangelical movement was just getting started,” he recalled. “Social  issues were not on the table.”

He and Dreyfus perceived a great danger in the religious right. He thus went  to great lengths to distance his boss from the movement.

“Jerry Falwell was coming to Madison and I made sure the governor was in  Superior,” he said.

We’ve almost come full circle since. The political influence of the religious  right grew throughout the 1980’s and ’90’s, forcing many Republicans to take a  hard line against homosexuality, only to back down in recent years as an equally  vociferous gay rights movement began winning majority support. A Marquette University Law School poll shows a majority of  Wisconsin registered voters (53 percent) support gay marriage today.

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