Julaine Appling is often asked if she's afraid of being on the wrong side of history.
The short answer: she's not.
"There’s no right or wrong side of history," the president of Wisconsin Family Action says in her office. "History’s being made every single day. It’s not predetermined. I’m making history now. So are you. What I am concerned about is being on the right side of truth. I work hard to know what that is, and I don’t have to guess. It’s laid out for me. I don’t have to guess. And so, organizationally and personally, we’re concerned about staying on that right side of truth — and that is to promote this institution of marriage in a heterosexual format."
Appling and her organization have long been some of Wisconsin's staunchest opponents of same-sex marriage. She was a leader in the push for Wisconsin's 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state's domestic partnership registry.
The lawsuit failed and the registry was upheld, protecting some rights for same-sex couples regardless of the outcome of challenges to the constitutional marriage ban.
Then the U.S. Supreme Court in October rejected appeals from Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia, who had sought to keep their gay marriage bans in place. After months of confusion over the status of gay marriage in Wisconsin, the Supreme Court's decision meant same-sex couples could be married in the Badger State.
But even without the backing of the law or public opinion — which has essentially flipped since 2006, when nearly 60 percent of voters approved the ban — the fight to limit marriage to heterosexual couples is far from over for WFA.
"Of course not," Appling says, quickly.
She notes that the Supreme Court is likely to take up a same-sex marriage case in the coming year, as not all appellate courts have ruled the same way on the challenges that have made their way through the judicial system since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
"Our organization was never about an amendment," Appling says. "We’re about the institution of marriage, and so our message has never changed … We’ve always talked about marriage as a public good, and as an institution it needs to be strengthened, preserved and promoted. That’s our mission statement. What we’ve done is we’ve ramped up our educational efforts on marriage."
WFA is increasing its engagement with churches and hosting events throughout the state. Most of these events are held under the banner, "The Family — Wisconsin's Hope," and carry a message that promotes marriage between one man and one woman.
No matter what happens under the law, "it doesn't change what's right," Appling says.
The former teacher grows heated as she talks about the work "to get marriage protected," that resulted in the passage of the ban.
"Our people aren't stupid," she says. "They’re not irrational bigots. They’re not dunderheads. We may wear our cheeseheads to Lambeau Field, but that doesn’t mean we’ve checked our brains. They knew exactly what they were voting, and those determined to redefine marriage and circumvent that legislative process that’s in place to get their way — because they know they can’t get it through the people — to run to the courts, I think is absolutely reprehensible."
Appling believes court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage are an affront to both the institution of marriage and the rule of law itself. But they are far more common than the rulings upholding bans: since June 2013 when part of DOMA was struck down, 57 cases in federal, state and federal appellate courts have been decided in favor of same-sex marriage. Four rulings have upheld gay marriage bans.
The shift in public opinion within Wisconsin has happened quickly. In 2005, before the constitutional ban was enacted, 24 percent of voters in the state supported full recognition of marriage between same-sex couples. In 2009, the number had increased to 27 percent — but an April 2014 survey commissioned by Fair Wisconsin showed it had climbed to 51 percent. And a Marquette University Law School poll released in May 2014 showed support among 55 percent of voters.
"Wisconsin Family Action likes to tout the 60 percent of Wisconsin voters who supported the amendment in 2006, but that was over eight years ago," says Fair Wisconsin spokeswoman Megin McDonell. "Times have changed, and a majority of Wisconsin voters now support marriage equality and other civil rights protections for LGBT couples."
Appling certainly monitors the polls. But they tell her something else.
"I look at polls and what they say to me is, 'Julaine, you've got to do a better job of educating — 'cause there’s a whole generation out there that doesn't know the truth about this.' We've got to find a mechanism to get the truth out to more people. We've got to convince more people that this is a truly wonderful institution and this state, when our married mom-and-dad families are strong and independent of government, the state is strong. The antithesis produces a weak state."
For Appling, it's a matter of protecting an institution she believes does great societal good — but only when it's kept between one man and one woman. Asked why same-sex marriage can't produce the same benefits for society, she makes this argument: some marriages may not produce children, but no child is conceived without a set of male and female parents. Same-sex marriage is a denial of the relevance of gender, she says.
"No one’s saying in this argument that two women or two men can’t love a child, can’t provide for a child, give them a fabulous education, give them incredible opportunities," she says. "But two women will never be a father to a child. Two men can never be a mother to a child. It can’t happen. But what this argument tries to say is the uniqueness of maleness and femaleness is immaterial, irrelevant in the upbringing of a child, and that is fundamentally a denial of reality."
In Wisconsin — and a growing number of states — same-sex marriage is legal. WFA may continue to wage its battle, but the state abandoned its own fight to maintain the ban following the Supreme Court's rejection of its appeal — "For us, it's over in Wisconsin," said Gov. Scott Walker in October.
"This is a watershed moment for the entire country. We are drawing constantly closer to the day when all same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry regardless of where they live. The time has come and the country is ready," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the Wisconsin ACLU, the organization that filed the lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on behalf of eight same-sex couples. "More loving and committed couples than ever before have access to the protections that marriage provides. We've come too far to go back."
The work continues for LGBT advocates.
Since the decision striking down Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban was made official by the Supreme Court, Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen haven't given specific direction to state agencies beyond instructing them to treat same-sex marriages the same as opposite-sex marriages.
Because there are still statutes on the books through which same-sex couples are treated differently than heterosexual couples — or are not recognized at all — there are many situations that leave state agency officials, county clerks, couples and others confused, McDonell says.
"In order for legal equality to translate into true lived equality for gay and lesbian couples, Wisconsin's laws and administrative policies must be clarified and updated as soon as possible," McDonell says. "Achieving the freedom to marry in Wisconsin was absolutely critical for same-sex couples, but the work continues beyond striking down the ban on marriage equality. From making sure all marriages are fully recognized in Wisconsin, to building support for modernizing our state’s nondiscrimination laws to ensure that transgender people are also protected from discrimination, Fair Wisconsin will continue our work to achieve not just legal equality, but true lived equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."