The XX Factor

How Right-Wing Politicians Use Their Wives as Human Shields

Tonette Walker pictured with her husband Scott Walker at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Republican would-be presidential candidates are stuck in a precarious position when it comes to gay rights. On one hand, the public at large is increasingly supportive of gay rights. On the other hand, the Republican base is increasingly hysterical about the issue. Keeping your base placated while showing a more moderate side to the general public is a tricky needle to thread. So it’s not surprising that Scott Walker’s wife, Tonette Walker, is talking about her sons’ support of same-sex marriage—and implying she tends to agree with them. 

“It’s hard for me because I have a cousin who I love dearly—she is like a sister to me—who is married to a woman, her partner of 18 years,” Tonette Walker told the Washington Post, after describing her efforts to reconcile her pro-gay sons to her anti-gay husband. The Walker family falls right in line with national trends that show women support gay marriage more than men and that young Republicans support same-sex marriage while their elders reject it

The Republican Party has a long tradition of candidates showcasing their more liberal wives as a way to soften their image on social issues. The pro-choice wife is a particularly useful weapon. Anita Perry “accidentally” suggested pro-choice leanings when Rick Perry was getting negative press for his support of severe abortion restrictions. Both of the Presidents Bush have sent out the pro-choice wives to portray the abortion question as a minor disagreement among family members as opposed to an actual policy position that the person in power—that would be the husband—would push regardless of his wife’s opinion. Eric Cantor revealed a pro-choice wife in the midst of his 2008 efforts to “rehabilitate” the GOP by making it less ideological. Not that Diana Cantor’s opinion mattered—her husband later pushed hard on anti-choice legislation

Back in ‘08, Diana Cantor also revealed support for same-sex marriage, but the precedent set by the pro-choice wives of anti-choice politicians should give us a clue as to how much Tonette Walker or Diana Cantor’s opinion on marriage equality matters when it comes to actual policy. All they do is provide their partners with a pleasant façade for the benefit of low-information voters.