On gay marriage, Jeb Bush ready to move on

In this Nov. 20, 2014 file photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Washington.
In this Nov. 20, 2014 file photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Washington. AP

While opponents of same-sex marriage are vowing to fight on, former Gov. Jeb Bush sounds ready to move on as he considers a potential bid for president.

“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Bush said in a statement Monday. “I hope that we can also 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.”

Bush, a Miami-Dade County resident, made the statement a day after The Miami Herald reported his discomfort with a local judge's looming decision, issued Monday, to greenlight gay marriage.

A spokesperson for Bush also issued a related statement concerning the right of gay couples to adopt children. The Democratic National Committee blasted Bush over that issue and gay marriage, but Bush says he also defers to the courts.

“Previously, I opposed gay adoption, but it has since become the law in our state and I respect that decision,” Bush said.

Bush’s language about gays has evolved mightily since 1994, when he wrote a Miami Herald editorial where he asked: “Should sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No.”

“The governor — and the government — do not defend the conduct of every Floridian with equal verve and enthusiasm,” Bush wrote. “Polluters, pedophiles, pornographers, drunk drivers, and developers without proper permits receive — and deserve — precious little representation or defense from their governor. The statement that the governor must stand up for all people on all matters is just silly.”

Running for governor at the time, Bush lost that race to incumbent Lawton Chiles, the last Democrat to occupy the governor’s mansion. Bush moderated his tone in 1998 when he ran again and won the first of his two terms.

At the time, polls indicated only about a quarter of Americans supported gay marriage. In 2008, more than 62 percent of Florida voters backed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which has been undone for now by the courts. Polls now indicate a plurality of people support gay marriage.

As governor, Bush was a solid social conservative. And, according to the Democratic National Committee, Bush’s latest statement on same-sex issues shows that only his rhetoric has changed.

“It took Jeb Bush 69 words to say absolutely nothing – 69 words not to say, ‘I support marriage equality.’ Nothing’s changed,” DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said Monday in a written statement.

“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,” Elleithee wrote. “If he wants to tell us he’s changed his position, great. But this was not that statement. It was typical Jeb Bush.”

Bush also received criticism from some conservatives who think he isn’t conservative enough.

In response to a Miami Herald Naked Politics blog post on Bush’s statement that he “respects” the courts, conservative reader Steve Morris said via Twitter: “... and that is why Jeb is unfit to be the Republican nominee for president.”

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