Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday defended his opposition to same-sex nuptials by saying marriage between one man and one woman “deserves to be elevated in our laws.”
Rubio, who’s considered a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, made the remarks in a speech before about 100 people at Catholic University in D.C.
In his remarks, Rubio said states have enshrined the understanding of “traditional marriage” as one man, one woman into law because of its record of success in raising children to become successful adults.
“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.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the remarks from Rubio demonstrate he’s “wrong on this issue and time will tell that he’s on the wrong side of history.”
“An ever growing majority of Americans from all walks of life – from all religious denominations and political ideologies – are increasingly supportive of marriage equality,” Sainz said. “What Senator Rubio describes as intolerance is actually the inexorable march toward equality that has always made our country stronger and richer.”
His remarks on marriage were part of a larger speech on societal values. Rubio also discussed making abortion illegal, the importance of two-parent families and government incentives favoring marriage, such as tax credits for married couples raising children.
The Florida Republican criticized judges who have acted to overturn state marriage bans, including the state judge in his own state who recently ruled in favor of marriage equality in the Florida Keys.
“Those who support same-sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislatures to change state laws,” Rubio said. “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 criticized judges for overturning state marriage bans after more than 20 courts have struck them down. Observers expect the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a final, nationwide ruling on the issue of marriage equality as soon as the middle of next year.
Another Republican in his state, Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), took a different approach following the court ruling on Tuesday, becoming what is considered to be the fourth sitting U.S. House Republican to support marriage equality, but stating his personal support for marriage between one man and one woman.
Despite his stated opposition to same-sex marriage, Rubio acknowledged “our history is marred by discrimination” against gay people, saying he respects the arguments of supporters of same-sex marriage and their efforts to change the system — as long as it’s through the legislative system and not the courts.
But Rubio insisted tolerance is a “two-way street” and criticized what he said were attacks on opponents of same-sex marriage, such as those against former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who was removed from his post after criticism for his donations in support of California’s Proposition 8.
“And I promise you that even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” Rubio said. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”
Rubio’s position that states should be able to bar same-sex couples from marrying isn’t new. Last year when speaking before the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, Rubio said his belief that states can deny marriage rights to gay couples “does not make me a bigot.”
Rubio also invoked President Obama’s previous opposition to marriage equality as evidence that opposition to gay nuptials isn’t bigotry.
“Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage,” Rubio said. “And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before the 2012 election.”
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for the LGBT group Freedom to Marry, was succinct in his response to calls for tolerance from Rubio as he continues to oppose marriage equality.
“Senator Rubio’s kinder, gentler discrimination isn’t going to cut it,” Solomon said.