As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush establish a track record of homophobia that ranks up there with the best. He opposed gay adoption, on the grounds that “If you’re going to have permanency, it should be with a loving couple that is a man and a wife.” He supported a federal constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality that his brother proposed. When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, Jeb Bush reiterated that he’s “a supporter of traditional marriage.”
Now that marriage equality is a reality in Florida, Bush is saying the same things he’s always said. And the mainstream media is proclaiming that Bush is now suddenly sounding much more sympathetic than ever before.
Don’t you believe it for a moment.
On Sunday, Bush was saying exactly the same thing he’s been saying about marriage equality for years:“it ought to be a local decision.” By which Bush means that the state should have the right to let voters enshrine bigotry if they so wish.
After a federal judge ruled Monday that marriages have to begin in Dade County today, Bush issued a statement that The New York Times quickly proclaimed “conciliatory.”
“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Bush 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.”
It’s an artful statement. For one thing, it makes same-sex relationships about “greater legal protections,” not the same legal protections that heterosexual couples enjoy. But more importantly, Bush is signalling his support for the right of religious conservatives to ignore those very same protections if they so choose.
In essence, Bush is saying that everyone should respect the rule of law–except religious conservatives.
Now how conciliatory is that?
Jeb Bush has always been the most conservative of the public Bushes, which should give anyone who lived through George W’s presidency pause. Twenty years ago, Jeb was arguing against “sodomy be[ing] elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion.”
But that may not be good enough for Bush’s presidential hopes. Since announcing last month that he was exploring a White House run, Bush has met with reactions that could best be summed up as “meh.” Moreover, as conservative as Bush has been, the modern GOP is even further to the right. When Bush makes moderate sounds, such as he has about immigration reform, he’s committing heresy to the true believers who are the party’s base.
As a result, Bush is going to have to pick something to shore up his conservative credentials if he really is running for president (which isn’t a certainty). Being a homophobe is certainly one way to go. Now that Mike Huckabee has thrown his hat into the ring, antigay rhetoric is going to be a staple of the GOP presidential primary. Bush is going to have to up the volume if he’s to be competitive.
Judging from his latest statement, Bush looks to be walking a fine line. He wants the media to think he’s a moderate (after all, they fell for that line from his brother). But he wants to let the base know that he’s really with them. So expect more dog whistles from the candidate. Just don’t expect any change.