Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson’s (R) decision to jump into the Wisconsin Senate race raises the question of Thompson’s position on gay rights, particularly if openly gay Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) becomes his Democratic challenger. Thompson isn’t known as a firebrand on conservative social issues, but during his failed bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, Thompson said that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay people. He immediately walked back his position, citing a broken hearing aide and a need to use the restroom:
Q: Governor Thompson, same theme. If a private employer finds homosexuality immoral, should he be allowed to fire a gay worker?
THOMPSON: I think that is left up to the individual business. I really sincerely believe that that is an issue that business people have to got to make their own determination as to whether or not they should be.
Q: Okay. So the answer’s yes.
Watch the debate and his walk back with HBO’s Bill Maher:
“I’ve been very sick. … I was very sick the day of the debate. I had all of the problems with the flu and bronchitis that you have, including running to the bathroom,” Thompson explained. “I was just hanging on. I could not wait until the debate got off so I could go to the bathroom.”
Wisconsin does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, but in 1982, “became the first state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” in employment. The law was signed by Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus. In 1996, however, did remove language from the GOP platrom “that opposed civil rights protections for those discriminated against because of their ‘sexual preference.’”