Known as an opponent of same-sex marriage, Bush was more accepting of the decision and was quoted in The New York Times as saying individuals should “respect the rule of law.”
“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Bush reportedly said. “I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue – including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”
While those remarks don’t signal support for the right of same-sex couples to marry, they’re a shift in tone from comments the former Florida governor made to The Miami Herald in which he said states should decide the marriage issue.
“It ought be a local decision — I mean, a state decision,” Bush was quoted as saying. “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”
The new comments are more along the lines of the welcoming image of the Republican Party, including on the issue of LGBT rights, that Bush has sought to portray after he left the governor’s mansion, but stayed on the national stage. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2012, Bush said gay parents who are raising children well “should be held up as examples for others to follow because we need it.”
Still, Bush has never come out in favor of same-sex marriage. In 2004, when same-sex marriage was only legal in the state of Massachusetts, Bush said in an interview on Fox News the pursuit of his brother, then-President George W. Bush, to pass a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country “is the right thing” and would “once and for all make it clear that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
The Democratic National Committee criticized Bush’s most recent statement, saying his additional words are no change from his opposition to same-sex marriage.
“It took Jeb Bush 69 words to say absolutely nothing – 69 words not to say, ‘I support marriage equality.’ Nothing’s changed,” DNC spokesperson Mo Elleithee said. “At the end of Bush’s statement, he still had the same position: He opposes the right of gay and lesbian Floridians – and all LGBT Americans – to get married and adopt children.”
“If he wants to tell us he’s changed his position, great. But this was not that statement. It was typical Jeb Bush,” Elleithee added.
But LGBT advocates diverged in their response to Bush’s comments. Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, was quoted in The New York Times as saying Bush “at least is expressing his respect for those who support marriage equality.”
“That’s a big change for Republicans,” Sainz reportedly added.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Bush’s remarks demonstrate he’s “part of the growing movement of common-sense conservatives sympathetic to the desire of committed gay and lesbian couples to live their lives in quiet dignity” with the same rights as others.
“It’s a message that seems to be resonating among the general electorate, and one that can set the standard for 2016 given Mr. Bush’s head start in the race for the GOP nomination,” Angelo said.
Evan Wolfson, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Marry, was unmoved by Bush’s comments, saying the potential presidential candidate is setting up a “false dichotomy” between same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
“Many gay people of faith also believe that marriage is a sacrament, and we all want to protect religious liberty alongside freedom and equality under the law,” Wolfson said. “The law does not regulate sacraments, and the Constitution safeguards both the freedom of religion and the freedom to marry. It’d be nice to see Jeb Bush and all aspiring leaders stand up for the whole Constitution, for all Americans.”
Another potential 2016 presidential candidate from Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has stayed mute on the marriage issue as courts have legalized gay nuptials in his state, even though he previously said state should be able to prohibit same-sex marriage and has decried the “intolerance” of marriage-equality supporters. His office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment.