Better Know An Anti-LGBT Senate Candidate: Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-WI)

Third in a series examining how anti-LGBT Senate candidates have worked to hurt the cause of equality.

With his primary win last Tuesday, four-term former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-WI) will be the Republican nominee against Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) for the open seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D). Unlike Baldwin, the nation’s first openly lesbian Member of Congress and a 100 percent supporter of LGBT equality, Thompson has opposed the LGBT community on several major issues.

Over his time as a Wisconsin state legislator (1967 to 1986), Governor (1987 to 2001), President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (2001 to 2005), an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination (2008), and this Senate race:

1. Thompson ran for governor opposing his predecessor’s pioneering efforts to protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination. In 1983, then-Gov. Tony Earl (D) created a Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues. Thompson, in his successful 1986 campaign to succeed Earl, repeatedly pledged to eliminate the council. Dick Wagner, who co-chaired the council, told ThinkProgress that Thompson did not reauthorize the Council on Lesbian and Gay Issues but “did continue the Bicycle Coordinating Council.”


2. Thompson said it should be legal to fire someone for being LGBT — and then said it shouldn’t. During a 2007 Republican presidential primary debate, Thompson was asked whether employers who believe “homosexuality is immoral” should be allowed to fire gay employees. Thompson forcefully responded that “business people have to make their own determination” on whether to fire employees based on sexual orientation. A day later, he reversed himself, saying “I didn’t hear the question properly and I apologize. It’s not my position. There should be no discrimination in the workplace and I have never believed that.” Thompson later blamed his answer on a dead hearing aid, illness, and a urgent need to go to the bathroom. Indeed, back in 1981, then-Assemblyman Thompson voted against the Assembly version of the nation’s first statewide gay rights bill (he later voted to accept the Senate’s amended version in a largely uncontested vote).

3. Thompson opposes marriage equality and strongly supports DOMA. Earlier this month, he backed the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, telling a Wisconsin TV station “I believe very strongly in the Defense of the Marriage Act [sic], that marriage is between one man and one woman. I support that. That’s the federal law.” While he expressed reservations about a federal constitutional amendment, he pledged to “defend the federal law — one man, one woman for marriage.” Thompson declined to join the bipartisan coalition of former governors who opposed Wisconsin’s 2006 state constitutional amendment against same-sex unions.

4. Thompson has proudly promoted his anti-LGBT backers. His campaign website endorsement list prominent features one of the nation’s most notorious anti-gay extremists — Fox News Channel host and Chick-fil-A appreciator former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR). Huckabee also appeared in a TV ad backing Huckabee in the primary and praising him for defending “our conservative values.”

5. Thompson lead the Bush administration’s failed “abstinence-only” programs. In 2001, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund gave Thompson an “F” for “throwing money into ineffective and discriminatory ‘abstinence-until-marriage’ sex education programs in the face of skyrocketing rates of HIV infection among young people.” In addition to being highly ineffective in general, pushing abstinence until marriage while simultaneously opposing allowing same-sex couples to marry at all has an especially damaging effect on LGBT youths.

Watch Thompson argue in favor of legal workplace discrimination:

Though Thompson has taken a few pro-equality positions over his more than 45 years in politics, he has all too often been on the wrong side of issues of LGBT rights. His election to the U.S. Senate would be a huge threat to LGBT people and families.