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No, Marco Rubio Did Not Just Preach Tolerance For LGBT People

The robot candidate’s anti-LGBT talking points haven’t actually changed at all.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has claimed that the Orlando shooting, which led to the deaths of 49 people at a gay nightclub, is what motivated him to run for Senate again after his robotic presidential campaign flopped. Last week, after he spoke to a room full of anti-LGBT conservatives — in Orlando no less — outlets like the New York Times lauded him for striking a “softer tone” as he “urged them to resist passing judgment on gays.” But in reality, he mostly defended discrimination against LGBT people in his remarks, using the exact same talking points he has always employed.

Yes, Rubio acknowledged that LGBT people “have experienced sometimes severe condemnation and judgment from some Christians,” that “loving our LGBT neighbors is not a betrayal of what the Bible teaches,” and that American history “has been marred by discrimination against and rejection of gays and lesbians.” But in his remarks to the Florida Renewal Project, Rubio did not address the American present — the ways that the LGBT community still experiences discrimination and rejection — and he actually spent a significant portion of his remarks defending the way that he and the other people in that room have perpetuated discrimination and rejection.

It wasn’t even clear that Rubio is caught up on what’s happened most recently. “For over 2000 years, Christianity has defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he said. “It is now undeniable that there is a growing number of Americans who seek to expand that definition to include two people of the same sex.” By “growing number,” he probably meant the 61 percent of the country who now support marriage equality, and by “seek to expand the definition,” he probably meant the fact that the Supreme Court already expanded the definition for the entire country over a year ago — ending debate on the issue as a legal matter.

But Rubio still supports the “traditional” definition of marriage, he explained, “not because I seek to impose my view on others, and not because I seek to discriminate against anyone,” but because “I believe that the union of one man and one woman is a special relationship with an extraordinary record of success at raising children into strong and successful people.” That “special relationship,” he said, “deserves to be elevated and set apart in our laws.” The clear implication is that same-sex couples have inferior relationships, do not deserve recognition, and should not be raising children — even though their record when it comes to raising children is just as “extraordinary.”

Most of Rubio’s remarks on the topic were dedicated to defending that rejection of LGBT people. “I acknowledge that those who have a different view have a right to their views, but Americans like myself, who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage, also have a right to ours,” he insisted. He then accused “both sides” of “heated rhetoric” that has created an “unfortunate divide,” citing as an example that it’s “no longer uncommon to see support for traditional marriage defined as hate speech.” He added that “virtually any effort to support the right of Americans not to be forced to violate the teachings of their faith on this matter is routinely labeled as an anti-LGBT law.” The LGBT movement is the villain and Christians are the victims because “intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”

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But that’s because those efforts are anti-LGBT. All of the “religious freedom” laws that have been proposed, from Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the federal First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)to Mississippi’s now-suspended “Freedom of Conscience” law, are designed to allow (if not encourage) discrimination against LGBT people. If a same-sex couple can’t access the same service a different-sex couple can, that’s discrimination, and ensuring that such denials of service remain legal is, by definition, an anti-LGBT effort. In 2012, Rubio even said that it should be legal to fire people just for their sexual orientation — a position he has never reversed. Intolerance of this kind of intolerance is not hypocrisy; it’s social justice.

This notion that LGBT activists are overstepping — that they’ve been given enough rights and conservatives should still have room to reject them — has defined his talking points for years:

  • In 2012, Rubio acknowledged that he believes the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and that informs his positions, but he doesn’t use it “as a way to pass judgment on people.”
  • In 2013, Rubio said that those who disagree with him have to respect him too. “Just because I believe states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.”
  • In 2014, Rubio bemoaned the “intolerance” against those who oppose marriage equality, noting — correctly — that he would be “attacked as a hater, a bigot, or someone who is anti-gay” for saying so. He even used the exact same “intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy” line.
  • In 2015, Rubio warned that the advancement of gay rights will lead to the teachings of mainstream Christianity being labeled as “hate speech.”

In other words, the candidate known for regurgitating talking points repeatedly in robotic fashion is continuing to do just that. Even at the height of the 2016 Republican primary, when Rubio was enduring criticism for his programmed answers, he gave the same response on this issue. At a February debate, he insisted, “I don’t believe that believing in traditional marriage the way I do makes you a bigot or a hater.”

For all of Rubio’s new talk of loving LGBT people, listening to them and understanding them, he still doesn’t even think there’s any problem in rejecting who they are. “Jesus showed us that we do not have to endorse what people do in order to accept them for who they are,” he said, using a parable about Jesus showing love to a woman convicted of adultery. “While he may not have agreed with what she was doing, he saw her value as his child.”

What he was actually urging the room full of anti-LGBT activists to do was to remain steadfast in their anti-LGBT beliefs and ignore those who criticize them for it:

I know what some of you are thinking: that even if you speak of respect and dignity for all, if you do not accept the new definition of marriage, some are still going to try to shame you and silence you. They’re still going to call you a bigot and a hater. Yes, probably, some will. And yet we must still love our neighbor, because these voices do not speak for the entire LGBT community, because like anyone else, many in that community deeply desire to come to Christ but they do not because they fear they will be shunned and rejected by some.

Indeed, this idea of convincing more LGBT people to “come to Christ” is what he thinks they can learn from the Orlando shooting. He noted how many churches came together to show support to the victims and the community, a sight many of those LGBT people had never seen. “Sadly, they had come to believe…that Christianity had no place for them.” Rubio suggested that if he or anyone in that crowd had ever suggested that if anyone has ever felt that “Christianity wants nothing to do with them,” then they have failed to represent Christ and the way he reached out to “the marginalized and the forgotten of his time.”

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The comment mirrors the way Rubio tried to defend speaking to the anti-LGBT group in the first place. He simply described the event as “a gathering of faith leaders” and a “celebration of faith.” But for most of the people in the room — and by Rubio’s own admission in these very remarks — that is a version of Christianity that very much rejects people for being LGBT. It is not a faith that “wants nothing to do with them,” but one that demands that they be celibate and deny themselves love and families, if not pursue harmful (and ineffective) therapy to reject and convert their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rubio is clearly using the Orlando shooting as a crutch to restart his political career after saying last fall that he hates the Senate and wasn’t going to run again. But when it comes to LGBT issues, his positions and rhetoric have not changed at all. As Equality Florida reacted, “ His willful ignorance of the very real discrimination and hatred that LGBTQ people face NOW is not neutral; it is deadly.”