Rubio calls for tolerance in same-sex marriage debate

Photo: Marco Rubio. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

Photo: Marco Rubio. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

Sen. Marco Rubio condemned intolerance toward those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman Wednesday while acknowledging the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage continues to grow.

During a speech at Catholic University, the Florida Republican described the debate over same-sex marriage as a two-way street and linked the nation’s economic wellbeing to its social and moral wellbeing.

“Today, public opinion polls show there is a growing acceptance in society of the idea that marriage should be redefined to include the union of two adults of the same sex. And as a result, a number of state legislatures have changed their laws to redefine marriage. States have always regulated marriage in America, and state legislatures have a right, a constitutional right to change those regulations,” Rubio said. “But that right to define and regulate marriage is a two-way street. A majority of states still have laws that define marriage as one man and one woman. In some, like my home state of Florida, voters placed that definition in our state constitution. Just as states have a right to redefine marriage to include same sex marriage, they also have right to continue to define it as between one man and one woman.”

While stating “intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy,” Rubio, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, also acknowledged history is “marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

“There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans,” Rubio said. “Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination. I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.”

However, Rubio said the flip side of that debate is the “extraordinary record of success at raising children” with a mother and a father.

“That is the definition of marriage that I personally support – not because I seek to discriminate against people who love someone of the same sex, but because I believe that the union of one man and one woman is a special relationship that has proven to be of great benefit to our society, our nation and our people, and therefore deserves to be elevated in our laws,” Rubio said.

Although Rubio articulated a compassionate approach to the nation’s growing divide over marriage equality, he slammed same-sex marriage supporters for intolerance toward those who disagree and judges for legalizing same-sex marriage from the bench.

“Those who support same sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislatures to change state laws. But Americans, like myself, who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have a right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing that overturned by a judge,” Rubio stated. 

Last week, Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and reelected in 2002 and 2008, found Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage in violation of the U.S. Constitution in a ruling that applies only to Monroe County, Florida. After that decision, Florida Rep. David Jolly became the fourth Republican member of the House of Representatives to support marriage equality, distinguishing between religious marriage and civil marriage. Same-sex marriage supporters have long argued that a final national resolution must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our nation has in the past demonstrated a tremendous capacity to work through issues such as this. And I believe it will again. Doing so will require those of us who support traditional marriage to respect those who support same sex marriage. But it will also require those who support same sex marriage to respect those of us who support traditional marriage, for tolerance is also a two way street,” Rubio said. “However, today, there is a growing intolerance on this issue — intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage.”

Rubio added that his remarks would lead some to label him “a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay.”

Rubio’s speech, which also touched on abortion, comes as national Republican politicians are increasingly unwilling to waste political capital fighting same-sex marriage and appeared to be aimed at social conservatives searching for a favored 2016 GOP presidential candidate. His remarks also indicate a more empathic approach to addressing disagreements over same-sex marriage as polls consistently show a growing majority of Americans support same-sex couples’ right to marry.

“Too often in modern politics, debates about our values have been viewed as either wedges to win elections or unnecessary distractions to be avoided,” Rubio said. “But the truth is that the social and moral wellbeing of our people has a direct and consequential impact on their economic wellbeing.”

UPDATE: LGBT-rights advocates were quick to counter Rubio’s claims that opponents of same-sex marriage are subject to intolerance.

“An ever growing majority of Americans from all walks of life – from all religious denominations and political ideologies – are increasingly supportive of marriage equality. What Senator Rubio describes as intolerance is actually the inexorable march toward equality that has always made our country stronger and richer,” Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote in an email to Metro Weekly. “Senator Rubio is wrong on this issue and time will tell that he’s on the wrong side of history.”

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, took to Twitter to pushback against calls for tolerance of those who wish to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage (Rubio himself has expressed opposition to a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying).


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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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