- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to launch a run for president within weeks, on Friday called the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide a “grave mistake” and renewed his call for an amendment to the Constitution allowing states to determine who can marry.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not change Wisconsin law. The state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, supported by Walker and approved by voters in 2006, was struck down by a federal judge last year clearing the way for gay couples to legally marry.

Walker’s statements on same-sex marriage have fluctuated over the years, from staunch opposition to indifference. But on Friday, Walker blasted the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling.

“I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake,” he said in a statement released by his presidential “testing the waters” committee.

Walker blamed “five unelected judges” for redefining marriage, and said the only alternative left is for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution reaffirming the ability of states to define marriage.

“The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas,” Walker said.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointee, joined with the court’s four liberal justices in the opinion legalizing same-sex marriages.

Walker said he wanted to assure Wisconsin residents that “your conscience rights will be protected, and the government will not coerce you to act against your religious beliefs.”

A religious freedom law in Indiana sparked a nationwide backlash in March, with opponents saying it would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers on religious grounds. Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders said then they were not pursuing such a law, and Walker said he did not anticipate such a bill passing.

Walker said Friday that he believes the state constitution “explicitly protects the rights of conscience of our citizens,” and he did not call for a bill to expand or clarify that.

His spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Walker has long opposed same-sex marriage.

In 1997, as a member of the state Assembly, he voted for a bill to prohibit same-sex marriages and to declare those conducted in other states invalid. Walker was outspoken in supporting the state constitutional ban in 2005, when he was briefly a candidate for governor.

“Many years ago, I concluded that we must change the Wisconsin State Constitution to say that marriage is to be between one man and one woman,” Walker said in November 2005. “My belief in this position is even stronger today.”

He joined with 59 percent of voters in approving the ban in 2006.

But during his re-election campaign last year, Walker softened his position on the issue, saying his opinion didn’t matter.

“I’m not saying it’s not important,” Walker said at the National Governors Association in Nashville in July. “But Republicans haven’t been talking about this. We’ve been talking about economic and fiscal issues. It’s those on the left that are pushing it.”

In October, after a federal appeals court upheld the decision striking down Wisconsin’s ban, Walker said: “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin. To me, I’d rather be talking in the future now more about our jobs plan and our plan for the future of the state. I think that’s what matters to the kids. It’s not this issue.”

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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