“I love them, so I support them,” Walker said of his wife Tonette’s cousin and her partner.
“Love’s gonna be the focus of everything we do with our family and our close friends,” Walker told Muir while seated beside his wife and two sons, who support same-sex marriage, for an interview at the governor’s mansion in Madison, Wisconsin. Walker’s son, Alex, even participated as a witness in the courtroom wedding for Tonette’s cousin, though the governor himself did not attend.
Though Walker has opposed same-sex marriage for the entirety of his political career and voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman while in the state legislature, his decision to call for an amendment on the issue nonetheless sent shockwaves through his family.
Tonette Walker said she got calls from both sons, who were each “upset.”
“My advice to them was, ‘Don't come to me, go to him,’” she said, recalling her phone conversation with her sons. “And so they had the conversation.”
But beyond the concern Tonette said she felt over her sons, she had a difficult phone call of her own to make.
“I reached out to my cousin right away and said, ‘This is the same person that he was last week that you've known for 20-some years that has the same position and it hasn't changed,’” Tonette told her cousin over the phone. “It took us two, three days to talk with family, I, with Shelly and Cathy, and I think … we're back to where we were before.”
“The bottom line is I've got a position,” the governor went on to say. “As Tonette said, I've had it for 20 years -- voted for it in the legislature, defended it as governor and believe that. But you know, in any family, in any group of friends, there are gonna be differences. And I think people can respect that.”
Walker’s sons say they respect their father’s difference of opinion on gay marriage, and beyond that issue, said they have little to disagree with their father on – at least when it comes to politics.
"Other than his fashion sense, no,” 19-year-old Alex Walker said. “For the most part we do agree with our dad.”
Asked if he would fight for the constitutional amendment if elected, Walker said he would take a “realistic” approach that makes the protection of religious freedoms one of his top priorities.
“I'm also realistic to know that that's something that starts in the Congress and has to work its way through the states,” he said. “And so I think, going forward, the most important thing I, as a candidate, and ultimately, as president, can focus in on is protecting religious freedoms. That's something we've done very well here in this state.”
Opponents of so-called “religious freedom” laws say that they amount to discrimination by allowing private businesses and institutions to refuse services intended for use in a same sex marriage ceremonies. Though Wisconsin does not have a religious freedom law, Walker says the state has been able to strike a balance between preventing discrimination while also allowing religious freedom protections through the state’s constitution.
“We have very well defined religious freedoms in our state's constitution,” he said. “We also have very clear laws against discrimination. And so we've been able to balance that going forward. And I think that's something that's immediate, that we need to do right off the bat."