As former Governor Jeb Bush eyes a run for President of the United States, his record on gay marriage is coming under some scrutiny. He has always been a proponent of traditional marriage, but The Miami Herald has an article today reporting a certain ambivalence in his some of his public pronouncements:
As governor, he was against same-sex marriage but wasn’t publicly enthusiastic about the successful 2008 campaign to rewrite the Florida Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Bush, who left office in 2007, said the change wasn’t needed, since state law already restricted marriage to heterosexual couples. Two years ago, he suggested in a PBS interview that gay parents could be held up as role models, even as he said “traditional marriage is what should be sanctioned” by the government.
In the 2012 interview, Bush told Charlie Rose that “if people love their children with all their heart and soul and that’s what they do and that’s how they organize their life, that should be held up as an example to others, because we need it.” In a speech to a Republican group last year, Bush warned against being a party seen as against too many things, including being “anti-gay.”
I am not saying that Gov. Bush has changed his views on marriage. I am merely noting that his views are a shift from conservative candidates that have preceded him. And his states-rights approach certainly doesn’t agree with previous GOP platforms that call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. To be fair, he has not been the only conservative over the years who has favored leaving the matter to the states.
You can read the rest of the article to get the rest of the context. I’m simply flagging the article here because I think that it is an early indicator of a shift that is taking place within the Republican Party. In 2012, I predicted that Mitt Romney would be the last Republican Nominee for President to support traditional marriage and oppose legal gay marriage. I said that because I believed that by 2016 opposing legal gay marriage would be politically untenable for any candidate running on a national ticket.
This is a problem for the GOP because a significant portion of the GOP base still feels pretty strongly about traditional marriage. So whoever wins the nomination is going to have to figure how to do two things at once. Communicate to the base that he cares about their concerns while not alienating the people that he needs to vote for him in the general election. This is a tall order because there is very little room for a middle-position on this issue.
I’m sure some will do as Bush has done and say that the decision should be left to the states. That appeals to the states-rights impulses of conservatives and libertarians. But I doubt that argument will withstand scrutiny for very long. As the The Miami Herald Reports, that approach will be spun as allowing states to suppress fundamental human rights. Again, such a position risks alienating voters in the general election. That is why many Republicans would like for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of gay marriage to remove it as an issue for 2016. They may very well get their wish this summer.
The other option is for candidates to stand on principle and not on political calculation. That would be my preference, but I’m not holding my breath for that one.