Julaine Appling may be the most important social conservative in the state.

The head of Wisconsin Family Action, a group dedicated to “advancing Judeo-Christian principles and values,” Appling, 60, was the face of the successful campaign six years ago to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Since then, she has dedicated herself to other battles in the culture war, from filing a lawsuit to challenge the state’s domestic partnership registry, to lobbying the state Legislature to make abortions and divorces as hard as possible to obtain.

Naturally, Appling is an incendiary figure in state politics, and liberal writers have relished pointing out that, despite dedicating much of her career to anti-gay causes, Appling has never been married and in fact has shared a home for many years with a female colleague.

To many Wisconsinites, Appling’s opinions on sex and sexuality are rigid and outdated. And yet, her opinions continue to be relevant politically, and remain an important element of the Republican Party’s brand.

The Capital Times: So why did President Obama finally come out in support of gay marriage?

Julaine Appling: First of all, he believes in it. Secondly, it was politically timely. He has a base and he believes that in order to corral that base he needs to give them that bold statement. He wants their money and their activists working for him. I believe that at the core he believes in it, but I believe the timing of it was purely politically and financially driven.

CT: But it’s not just about the base, right? Doesn’t it show that many moderates and Republicans are supportive of gay marriage?

Appling: He’s about to find out. He’s about to find out whether it’s helpful or hurtful to his campaign.

CT: What’s your prediction?

Appling: I’m not going to make that prediction. On one level it is immaterial to me what the polls show. Right is right regardless. The issue of marriage is way too important to make our policies based on polls.

I would submit that (Obama’s announcement) was the culmination of decades of the media and education sending a message that “marriage is whatever I want it to be, marriage is about my personal happiness, it’s about me!”

It’s not about me. It’s about children. Now, there are couples who choose not to have children and that’s their right, but the bulk of them do have children. What we know (is) the way we prepare the next generation to become the workforce, the taxpayers, the geniuses, the entrepreneurs … is for them to be brought up by a married mom and dad.

CT: As a single woman who has never married, what makes you so passionate about marriage?

Appling: Well part of it is I’m not self-absorbed and self-focused. I’m looking to the next generation and the generation after that. Government has always sanctioned marriage in the form of a man and woman because that helps society. I see that and I believe in that. I don’t have to be married to do that.

CT: But what’s so special about the heterosexual relationship in marriage? Why can’t that be extended to homosexuals?

Appling: Because men and women are different and two men are the same and two women are the same. Look, one thing nobody can say about our organization is that we’ve said you don’t have a right as two men or two women to live together, or to have whatever relationship you want. What we’ve said is the social recognition that comes with legalization of (gay marriage) is not appropriate.

And it’s not just homosexuality (that’s the problem). I don’t believe in casual, recreational sex. I believe that’s horribly dangerous for young people … there are sexually transmitted diseases.

CT: What if they use protection?

Appling: Oh, protection is not 100 percent and most young people don’t use it correctly and they don’t use it 100 percent of the time.

CT: But is the reason people don’t use it correctly because people like you don’t want them to learn how?

Appling: Absolutely not! False, false, false. You would have to be a rock today to not know how to get a condom and how to use one.

CT: A poll recently showed that the vast majority of people — even those born during the 1940s — have had pre-marital sex.

Appling: No polls and no societal drift will ever make right wrong and wrong right. I come at life from a core set of beliefs. My worldview is fixed firmly in one source, and that is Scripture. That is my external, objective, forever-settled truth.

CT: What do you say to somebody who says he or she wants to follow Christian guidelines but is attracted to members of the same sex?

Appling: I can understand that. You have to make a decision and you may need help to make this decision. People have left gay lifestyles by the droves successfully. I believe they need to talk to people, maybe they need to speak to both sides but they at least need to speak to the side that says you can go in another direction.

Same-sex attraction is real. The question is do you have to act on it? I would submit you don’t have to act on it.

CT: Have you ever felt this same-sex attraction?

Appling: I would submit there’s not a person alive who hasn’t said “well I wonder,” because of the culture we live in, the time we live in. It’s a natural part of the maturation process. It’s not a life sentence.

CT: You’ve said you believe things like higher education and health care are privileges, not rights. Do you believe in public education?

Appling: Public education today is very different from public education even 25 years ago. I don’t know if public education is doing us a whole lot of favors. I think parents are ultimately responsible for the education of our children. I am very much a champion of school choice.

CT: Will you be heavily involved in the recall election?

Appling: We’ll be involved in get-out-the-vote efforts and education efforts.

CT: And what if Walker wins and the GOP keeps its majorities? What’s the next step for your movement?

Appling: We’ll pick up where we left off to make sure that we get language to protect religious freedom. We’ll be working on divorce modification as it relates to couples with minor children. Things like changing the waiting period (required before a divorce is finalized).

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.

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