On gay marriage, conservatives fighting a war they’ve already lost

Say, what’s the difference between Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and this Japanese soldier, who continued fighting World War II for 29 years because he didn’t know it was over?

Honestly, I can’t think of much. In three decades or so, Adam and Steve, in solemn observance of their silver anniversary, may pull Van Hollen out of a spider hole in the Minocqua suburbs, at which point they’ll blithely introduce the terrified attorney general to his son-in-law the goat and daughter-in-law the wall clock. Because, you know, the slippery slope conservatives envisioned when marriage equality began to gain wide acceptance will have naturally turned into an America-eroding mudslide by then.

Late last week, Van Hollen appealed U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The 7th U.S. District Court of Appeals will take up the case next.

Of course, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. Judge Crabb put her own ruling on hold just a week after making it, fully expecting an appeal from Van Hollen. Meanwhile, Gov. Walker, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage when it was passed in 2006, has been mostly mute on the subject of late, saying it’s not up to the governor anyway. And that just makes sense. He’s a politician with lots of ambition. Ambitious politicians generally know which way the wind is blowing.

And one does wonder whether Van Hollen’s heart is really in this fight or if he’s simply going through the motions and waiting for the official surrender order from the Imperial Army command. But if anyone ever needed to give up the ship, Van Hollen does. The world changes, and then moves on. Gorbachev eventually tore down that wall, pubescent girls threw out their New Kids on the Block swag, and apocalyptically drunk Packers fans stopped showing up at the Lombardi Avenue Chuck E. Cheese in wine-cooler-spattered green-and-gold Zubaz, all within the span of a decade.

There’s a demographic tidal wave of millennials coming who think that discriminating over sexual preference is akin to persecuting people for pouring globs of Mrs. Butterworth’s on their pancakes instead of maple syrup. Hey, it’s a taste preference. You don’t have to like it, but we live in a free society, and people should be able to do what they want, even if it means ruining your heterosexual Wisconsin marriage by letting two guys in Connecticut argue for 40 minutes over the height of the ivory rose centerpieces at their wedding reception.

These millennials will be shaping public policy for the foreseeable future, and frankly, they don’t get what the fuss is all about.

According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of millennials are currently in favor of gay marriage, as opposed to 55% of Gen Xers, 48% of baby boomers, and 38% of the Silent Generation (those born during the Great Depression and World War II). So there’s a clear demographic shift when it comes to pro-gay views. Even more disturbing for anti-gay dead-enders is the year-by-year shift. As recently as 1996, 65% of all Americans opposed gay marriage, with just 27% supporting it. Today, 54% support marriage equality, while only 39% oppose it.

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I suppose Van Hollen is just doing his job, and I do have some sympathy for those who thought Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban, which was approved by 59% of state voters in 2006 (when, incidentally, 55% of U.S. citizens opposed same-sex marriage and just 33% supported it), was essentially bulletproof. But Crabb determined that the U.S. Constitution trumps our state constitution, and Van Hollen apparently disagrees.

The constitutional wrangling can be left to the judges, attorneys general, and constitutional scholars, but Van Hollen might think about asking himself the following questions:

  1. In a state where job creation lags the national average, do we really want to alienate talented professionals and potential job creators — both gay and straight — who might increasingly see Wisconsin’s values as antithetical to their own? Do we really want to encourage a “gay brain drain” by making this a more hostile place to live for LGBT people?
  2. Do we want to waste the state’s time, energy, and resources fighting against an outcome that’s inevitable?
  3. Finally, do we really want to be the last state on board? Mississippi just got around to ratifying the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, last year. The longer we delay marriage equality, the more we’ll look like Mississippi. And I think we can all agree that no one wants that.

Throughout the course of history, fairness and justice have tended to march forward, not backward. We should all be pulling in the right direction, and it would help tremendously if our attorney general joined in.

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