March 20, 2015 at 12:03 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Jeb Bush endorses religious discrimination legislation

Jeb Bush, Florida, gay news, Washington Blade, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, Republican Party

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) says he backs religious discrimination legislation. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush threw his support on Thursday behind religious discrimination legislation, warning that an upcoming ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality would make such measures necessary.

The former Florida governor made the remarks on the steps of the Georgia Statehouse when asked about the legislation pending in that state, but his response — which was often convoluted — was broad enough to apply to all such bills everywhere.

“I don’t know about the law, but religious freedom is a serious issue, and it’s increasingly so, and I think people that act on their conscience shouldn’t be discriminated against, for sure,” Bush said. “There should be protections, and so, as it relates to marriage equality — and that may change, the Supreme Court may change that. That automatically then shifts the focus to people of conscience, and, I don’t know, have their faith make — they want to act on their faith, and may not be able to be employed for example.”

Although many of the bills, including the one in Georgia, don’t explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity, but they’re seen as thinly veiled attempts to enable discrimination by allowing individuals and businesses to refuse services to LGBT people, including floral arrangements and cakes weddings for same-sex weddings.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bush added, “People have a right to do that, just as we need to be respectful for people who are in long-term committed relationships. Sorting that out is important.”

Other pending religious discrimination bills would enable court clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in states where they can legally wed.

Bush’s remarks are the latest in series of cracks in the perception that he stands out among other Republicans as an LGBT-friendly presidential candidate. Following a Buzzfeed report on the gay-supportive members of his team and indications that he may be loosening on his opposition to marriage equality, Bush denied during the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference his views have changed, saying, “I believe in traditional marriage.”

Before the Statehouse, Bush also disputed the notion that he isn’t conservative enough to win the Republican Party’s nomination for president, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“I’m the most conservative governor in Florida’s history,” Bush reportedly said. “I cut taxes every year. I reduced the state government workforce by 13,000. We took on the trial bar, the teachers’ unions – all the groups that wanted to protect the status quo…I’ve got a record I can run on that shows how conservative principles applied the right way gives everybody a chance to be successful.”

The version of the religious discrimination bill pending in the Georgia legislature, Senate Bill 129, passed the Georgia Senate earlier this month on a 37-15 vote. A companion bill, House Bill 218, remains pending in the Georgia House of Representatives, where it has yet to even receive a first hearing.

The Georgia bill has prominent opponents, including gay songwriter and performer Elton John and former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, who defended the state’s ban on sodomy before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s.

On Thursday, the grassroots GetEQUAL and Rise Up Georgia demonstrated at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to urge the Atlanta-based Delta Airlines, the largest employer in Georgia, to speak out against the legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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