Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who pictures himself behind the desk in the Oval Office, just can’t figure out the modern GOP. First he staked his reputation on finding a reasonable middle ground on immigration reform, only to discover that for many in the party’s base, reform consists solely of pointing an uninterrupted row of cannons at the Mexican border. Now he seems to be looking for a similar “moderate” stance on LGBT issues.
This won’t end well.
In a speech at Catholic University, Rubio tried his best to sound as if he was acquainted with 21st-century reality. The U.S. has come a “long way” in the way it treats gays and lesbians. Everyone should acknowledge the long history of discrimination against the LGBT community and also recognize that “many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the laws’ failures to recognize their relationship as a marriage.”
Now, this is remarkable stuff for a Republican, let alone a potential presidential candidate. Saying anything remotely kind about us is not a way to win points with the base, but it does recognize that young voters are not going to shift party loyalties without this kind of rhetoric.
Unfortunately, Rubio proceeded to undercut everything he just said by elaborating on why he felt the law was right to humiliate same-sex couples. “Americans like myself who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have a right to work to keep traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge,” Rubio declared.
Moreover, Rubio wrapped himself in the victim’s cape, complaining that marriage opponents are being targeted unfairly for their views.
“There is a growing intolerance on this issue, intolerance of those who continue to support traditional marriage,” Rubio whined. “Even before this speech is over, I’ll be attacked as a hater or bigot. Or someone who’s anti-gay. This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman, is not anti-gay. It is pro-traditional marriage.”
Yes, well, we have some disagreements there.
From a political point of view, however, Rubio can’t have it both ways. Young voters view gay marriage as a basic right that politicians should support. Even a majority of young Republicans support it. Older voters in the GOP’s base are not going to be thrilled by kind words about the LGBT community.
Marriage equality has moved faster than anyone might have predicted. In a relatively short period of time, it’s gone from a marginal issue to being widely accepted by Americans. It won’t be long when most Americans view opposition to marriage equality the same way that they view opposition to interracial marriages–as a throwback to an older, more bigoted time.
Rubio seems to be betting that he can find a middle ground on the issue. But the ground is shifting too rapidly. It won’t be long before there is no middle ground. In the meantime, he won’t be swaying voters in either camp. Give him credit for trying to change the conversation, but he won’t succeed by talking out of both sides of his mouth.