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Jeb Bush Softens Anti-Gay Stance as Florida Becomes 36th State to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

January 6, 2015 by Brett Wilkins in Conservatives, LGBT with 0 Comments
Jeb Bush, who once compared gays to "polluters and pedophiles," now says we should "respect" them. (Gage Skidmore)

Jeb Bush, who once compared gays to “polluters and pedophiles,” now says we should “respect” them. (Gage Skidmore)

While not fully embracing LGBT equality, Jeb Bush is softening his once staunchly anti-gay stance after a judge legalized such marriages in Florida, as its former governor prepares for a possible 2016 presidential run.

On Monday, Florida became the 36th US state to permit same-sex marriage after Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted her stay of a July 2014 ruling which declared a prior ban unconstitutional.

“Preventing couples from marrying solely on the basis of their sexual orientation serves no governmental interest,” Zabel wrote in her July decision. “It serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society.”

The case challenging the ban, Pareto v. Rubin, was brought by Catherina Pareto of Coconut Grove and Karla Arguello, her partner of 14 years.

“It’s been a very emotional year for all of us, and we can’t wait to get married — in about an hour, I hope,” Pareto told the Miami Herald outside the Miami courtroom where Zabel lifted the stay in front of tearful and jubilant men and women who have now at long last achieved marriage equality. “I feel good. I am relieved. I feel vindicated,” she added.

As same-sex couples rushed to obtain marriage licenses and tie the knot, Bush, who as governor in 2004 said he would support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage “if there was a threat that gay marriage would be accepted in our state,” and who has vehemently opposed same-sex adoption rights, toned down his anti-gay rhetoric a bit.

“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Bush said on Monday. “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.”

The former governor’s call for “respect” is a far cry from the stance he expressed when running for governor for the first time. In a 1994 Herald op-ed, he argued against equal rights for LGBT Americans, comparing them to “polluters and pedophiles.”

“[Should] sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is no,” wrote Bush. “The statement that the governor must stand up for all people on all matters is just silly,” he added, noting that government does not defend the rights of everyone “with equal verve and enthusiasm.” As examples, he listed “polluters, pedophiles, pornographers, drunk drivers and developers without proper permits.”

Buzzfeed, which unearthed the 1994 op-ed, asked Bush if he still held such anti-gay beliefs.

“Gov. Bush believes that our society should have a culture of respect for all people, regardless of their differences, and that begins with preventing discrimination, including when it comes to sexual orientation,” said Kristy Campbell, Bush’s spokeswoman. “This opinion editorial from 20 years ago does not reflect Gov. Bush’s views now, nor would he use this terminology today.”

Despite his mild evolution, Bush expressed disappointment that a court has overruled the will of the majority of Florida voters, 62 percent of whom voted in favor of a 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.

“It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision,” Bush told the Herald. “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”

Bush’s comments came as he prepares for a possible run for the Republican nomination for president next year. On Tuesday, he filed paperwork to start a political action committee (PAC), Right to Rise, which will support conservative candidates.

Last month, Bush announced he was “actively exploring” a run for the White House in 2016, and he has recently resigned from numerous posts which may present conflicts of interest, including from the boards of Rayonier Inc., Tenet Healthcare Corporation and Barclays, the British bank which has been embroiled in criminal scandal.

The arrival of LGBT marriage equality in Florida caps a stunning year of advancement for same-sex marriage rights across America. A year ago, 17 states had legalized gay marriage. Florida now becomes the 36th state to do so. It is now far easier to list the states which do not allow same-sex marriage than those that do. The remaining holdouts are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

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