U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida today became the third Republican to announce his presidential campaign, delivering his first speech as a 2016 GOP candidate at Miami's Freedom Tower, a location he selected "because it is a symbol of our nation’s identity as the land of opportunity."
Ahead of his speech Monday evening, Rubio was "expected to present himself as the embodiment of generational change who can unite the Republican Party's factions," according The New York Times.
Indeed, Rubio's speech attempted to frame the one-term Senator as fresh, young voice in American politics. Rubio's first campaign speech even included a none-too-subtle jab at Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who formally announced her own presidential campaign on Sunday.
"This election is not just about what laws we will pass," said Rubio. "It is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be. Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for President by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over, and we are never going back. … We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them."
Rubio's speech touched on broad policy issues, including a now-standard GOP candidate pledge to repeal "Obamacare," formally known as the Affordable Care Act. Rubio also hypothesized that "if we reform our tax code, reduce regulations, control spending, modernize our immigration laws … the American people will create millions of better-paying modern jobs."
The Florida Senator frequently referenced his upbringing, as the son of two Cuban immigrants who worked remedial jobs to support their family. Framing himself as the product of his father's "American Dream," Rubio acknowledged that he may seem like a longshot candidate to observers abroad.
"But I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege," said Rubio.
Turning his attention to his children, Rubio said the 2016 presidential election was about them.
"If we can capture the promise of this new century they will be the freest and most prosperous Americans ever," said Rubio of his children's generation. "But if we fail, they will be the first generation of Americans to inherit a country worse off than the one left for their parents."
"The final verdict on our generation will be written by Americans not yet born," concluded Rubio. "Let us make sure they record that we made the right choice. That in the early years of this century, faced with a rapidly changing and uncertain world, our generation rose to face the great challenges of our time."
But while Rubio's first campaign speech focused on the future, the Senator who has long been considered a rising star in the GOP and who some view as a moderate, youthful candidate's positions on LGBT equality are anything but forward-thinking.
Amid last month's nationwide controversy over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Rubio stood behind Gov. Mike Pence, who signed the sweeping bill into law even though many said it amounted to a license to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers. The bill has since been amended to clarify that it does not give businesses a right to refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, Indiana state law does not include nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers in employment, housing, education, or public accommodations.
"Nobody is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation," Rubio said on a March episode of Fox News talk show The Five. "I think that’s a consensus view in America. … The flip side is, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?"
"I think people have the right to live out their religious faith in their own lives," Rubio continued. "They can't impose it on you in your life. But they have a right to live it out in their own lives. And when you're asking someone who provides professional services to do something, or be punished by law, that violates their faith, you're violating that religious liberty that they have."
A longtime opponent of marriage equality, Rubio was one of the few prominent Republicans to offer a public comment when his home state of Florida reluctantly embraced marriage equality earlier this year after a federal court ordered the state to do so.
"While I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman, while people want to change that law — and a lot of people apparently do — there is a way to do that," Rubio told Politico in January. "You go through the legislature, or you go on the ballot, but I don’t agree the courts have the power to do this."
Rubio's assessment here was incorrect, as a primary function of federal courts is to review and when applicable rescind laws that violate the protections of the U.S. Constitution. That's noteworthy because the sSenator graduated cum laude with a law degree from the University of Miami School of Law — so at one point he presumably had a true understanding of how judicial review works.
Some Republican strategists have heralded Rubio as a fresh-faced alternative to the standard GOP brand of straight white men, since the son of Cuban immigrants speaks fluent Spanish and has advocated for humane immigration reform.
But even before Rubio backed away from the immigration reform bill he coauthored in 2013, which included a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., he was clear that any legislation that included progressive provisions for LGBT people would not get his vote.
"If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill," the Florida Republican told conservative radio host Andrea Tantaros 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."
Later that same year, Rubio served as the keynote speaker at a right-wing conference held by a group that advocates for so-called ex-gay therapy — the scientifically discredited practice that has been outlawed for use on minors in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. While Rubio's speech itself steered clear of direct mention of LGBT people, his address was bookended by videos from the host group's president denigrating marriage equality, gay Boy Scouts, and warning about the supposed "dangers" of transgender people who want to be teachers.
Back in 2012, when Rubio was a freshman senator, he lent his voice to a series of robocalls for the National Organization for Marriage, targeting voters who were, at the time, considering marriage equality legislation in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Rubio provided the Spanish-language portion of the robocalls, alongside fellow antigay Republican (and likely presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee, in addition to antigay minister James Dobson.