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The comment came from a 2004 U.S. Senate debate between Michels and then-incumbent Russ Feingold, a Democrat.
Asked about how he’d protect the rights of LGBTQ Wisconsinites, Michels said, “When you bring it out of your house, and onto the public street, that’s where I differ,” going on to say that he would back a constitutional amendment that would keep marriage between a man and a woman.
Michels clarified afterward that he did not mean that LGBTQ people should not be able to bring their sexuality into the public, but that others shouldn’t have “gay values” imposed on them.
His stances, both then and now, have been at odds with the LGBTQ community. But it’s a major stretch to say he doesn’t think they should be out in public.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his Republican challenger in November’s gubernatorial election don’t see eye to eye on a critical issue for LGBTQ Wisconsinites: Same-sex marriage.
Evers, who was the first governor to fly the Pride flag over the Capitol in 2019, said in his most recent comment on the issue that he wanted to see federal legislation to protect gay marriage. (The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all bans on it in 2015, but some worry that could change in a future ruling.)
His opponent, construction executive Tim Michels, said in a June 15, 2022, interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.
It’s the same opinion he held in 2004 when he ran for one of Wisconsin’s Senate seats. Then, a majority of the American public agreed with him. Today, that viewpoint is in the minority, with 71% of Americans supporting same-sex marriage according to a June 1, 2022, Gallup poll — a new high.
As the general election nears, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin seized on a related comment from Michels during his Senate run, which he made in an Oct. 16, 2004, debate against then-incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold.
When asked how the candidates would protect the rights of LGBTQ Wisconsinites, Michels responded that every American "deserves to be treated as an American, but I think when you bring it out of your house, and onto the public street, that's where I differ. I believe in family values."
He went on to say that he would support a constitutional amendment that would specify marriage as being between a man and a woman.
"Tim Michels doesn’t think gay people should be out in public," an Aug. 8, 2022, news release from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin read, outlining what it described as "radical" positions Michels and his primary challenger, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, held over their careers.
Michels’ position on same-sex marriage is crystal clear. But the Democratic Party’s statement is a major stretch.
Let’s take a look.
When asked for evidence of the party’s claim, a spokesperson provided a link to the debate and news coverage of both that event and Michels’ most recent reiteration of his stance on same-sex marriage.
The debate was the only specific instance the party was referring to when it made its claim, the spokesperson said.
But that portion of Michels’ debate statement was rather ambiguous — prompting Feingold to say he was "confused" by the remark and did not understand what his opponent was trying to say, according to an Oct. 17, 2004, story by The Associated Press.
That article also includes a key clarification that the Democrats ignored: that Michels "later clarified that he did not mean (LGBTQ people) should not bring their sexuality into public, but people shouldn’t have ‘gay values’ imposed upon them."
It’s certainly not a statement friendly to the LGBTQ community. But Michels explicitly said he didn’t mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to be out in public — which directly refutes what the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is now claiming, 18 years later, that he said.
A spokesperson for Michels’ campaign said the attention to the old quote is "the latest sad example" of Democrats "grasping at straws" to attack their opponent. She pointed to a June 28, 2022, radio interview Michels did with WISN radio host Dave Michaels in which he said the issue of gay marriage was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court seven years ago and that it’s not a priority given other issues he’d want to focus on as governor.
Still, Michels has made his personal viewpoint on these issues clear. He opposes same-sex marriage and has slammed his rivals for supporting it, saying in a July 22, 2022, campaign event in Menomonee Falls, "the Democratic Party now is all about LGBTQ IQ, and it’s all about drag shows for third-graders."
He didn’t answer a June question from a reporter about whether he would take steps as governor to limit gay people’s rights, saying, "As a businessman, what I do is I look at what’s in the legislation and it’s all about the details. So, I am very hesitant to do hypotheticals on a broadly stated question like that."
But the claim that he doesn’t believe gay people should be able to own their identity in public — especially when its one reference comes from a decade plus-ago debate — is an exaggeration.
A news release from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin claimed that "Tim Michels doesn’t think gay people should be out in public."
Michels has made clear his opposition to a critical issue for the LGBTQ community and has criticized Democrats for focusing on such issues. But the claim takes his 2004 comment to an extreme and leaves out the clarification he made afterward.
A statement is Mostly False if it contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
That fits here.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "LGBTQ pride flag flown over Wisconsin Capitol for first time in history," June 7, 2019
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, "Evers fills potholes, talks protecting gay marriage," July 21, 2022
USA TODAY, "When was same-sex marriage legalized? A quick history of an LGBTQ rights battle in the U.S.," June 21, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "GOP candidate Tim Michels reasserts view on marriage as 'between a man and woman' as public opinion on same-sex unions shifts," June 15, 2022
Pew Research Center, "Reading the polls on gay marriage and the Constitution," July 13, 2004
Gallup poll, "Same-sex marriage support inches up to new high of 71%," June 1, 2022
C-SPAN, Wisconsin Senate debate, Oct. 16, 2004
Democratic Party of Wisconsin news release, "Republican gubernatorial candidates are radical and wrong for Wisconsin," Aug. 8, 2022
Newspapers.com, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Oct. 17, 2004 edition
Recording of Michels’ Menomonee Falls campaign event, July 22, 2022
Associated Press, "GOP governor candidate Michels opposes same-sex marriage," June 15, 2022
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