Although Marco Rubio told Americans during the Republican debate on Saturday that he isn’t “a bigot or a hater,” his record couldn’t get much more antigay.
In the night’s single exchange about LGBT people, the Florida senator took a softball question from conservative moderator Mary Katharine Ham as a chance to hint at his antigay credentials while downplaying them for more moderate viewers.
Ham, a writer for conservative websites and a Fox News contributor, served as the debate’s obligatory right-winger. The Republican National Committee actually requires voices such as hers and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt to be given a platform or the networks risk losing the debates altogether.
Ham started out by telling Rubio that it’s “one of the lazier pieces of political wisdom” to claim Republicans are losing with younger voters on social issues. “On one hand, it’s clear young people across the political spectrum increasingly favor same-sex marriage,” she said, “however, young voters have not moved to the left on abortion.” Then she asked Rubio, “How do you speak to millennials on both these issues while Democrats will inevitably charge intolerance and extremism?”
That set up Rubio for a demonstration of the usual triangulation on social issues he employs these days as a national candidate.
“I don’t believe that believing in traditional marriage the way I do makes you a bigot or a hater,” he said. “It means that you believe that this institution that’s been around for millennia is an important cornerstone of our society. I respect people that believe differently. But I believe deeply that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”
Rubio is glossing over a lot of policy ideas to cast himself merely as a believer in traditional marriage who respects others’ opinions.
Like many of the other Republican candidates, he’s promised to nominate judges to the Supreme Court who will tilt its ideological balance. Rubio told the Christian Broadcasting Network in November that marriage equality "is current law, it is not settled law." That’s an important term, “settled law,” because it means Rubio believes the court could reverse itself. Undoing the Obergefell ruling, according to Rubio, just requires sending his restocked court another case — which would be an opportunity to reverse itself.
It’s true that Rubio has long opposed amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but he’s spun that in recent interviews by saying “that would be conceding that the current Constitution is somehow wrong and needs to be fixed.”
During the debate on Saturday, Rubio took the usual bashing from opponents for his former immigration plan, when he was part of the so-called Gang of 8 that passed a compromise bill through the Senate only to have it stall in the House. New Jersey governor Chris Christie said, for example, that Rubio had failed as a leader because he abandoned his own proposal.
But people forget that Rubio threatened to kill the bill most vocally when Democrats sought inclusion for binational same-sex couples.
"If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill," he said on conservative radio in June 2013. "I'm gone, I'm off it, and I've said that repeatedly. And I don't think that's going to happen, and it shouldn't happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is."
More recently, not only did Rubio support the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that passed in Indiana last year (only to be repealed after businesses were outraged), he has signed a pledge to pass a national version called the First Amendment Defense Act. Activists refer to these as “license to discriminate” laws.
On protections more broadly, Rubio told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he would reverse President Obama’s executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people in hiring. Rubio also seems to be modeling the scare tactics that worked so effectively when defeating a local anti-discrimination law in Houston last year, commonly referred to as HERO, by portraying it as about transgender people and bathrooms. “The executive orders would be to reverse the executive orders the president has made on things like gender equality in restrooms,” Rubio told CBN’s David Brody. “You’ve seen some local districts and others been forced to provide girls access to a boys’ bathroom and so forth.”
Of course, Rubio’s also against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is essentially a national version of Obama’s executive order for federal contractors. He said in 2013, “I'm not for any special protections based on orientation."
Rubio opposed repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military. Rubio even opposed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act when it was inclusive of same-sex couples.
And while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced new regulation in his state to limit the availability of “conversion therapy,” and Christie’s actually signed a ban on the practice in his state, Rubio is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He was a keynote speaker at the annual gathering for the Florida Family Policy Council, which supports “ex-gay therapy.”
Back in 2012, as voters in several states considered repealing a ban on same-sex marriage, Rubio voiced robocalls for the National Organization for Marriage. And he says letting same-sex parents adopt children is “a social experiment.”