The conventional wisdom is that Marco Rubio is the moderate alternative to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
But when it comes to LGBT equality, Rubio is as extreme as anyone. In less than three minutes on the Christian Broadcasting Network, the up-and-coming candidate said he would reverse President Obama’s executive orders on LGBT nondiscrimination, appoint judges to roll back abortion and same-sex marriage, and expand religious exemptions to a wide range of laws.
Most surprisingly, Rubio told CBN that he would “reverse the executive orders the president has made” on LGBT nondiscrimination, which a large majority of Americans support.
While saying that, Rubio repeated the lie that schools have “been forced to, you know, provide girls access to a boys’ bathroom and so forth.” This calumny, used to great effect in the recent debate over a civil-rights ordinance in Houston, is totally false.
What is true is that, in places where gender identity is protected by law, public institutions must allow transgender people to use gender-appropriate restrooms. Not “girls”—transgender men, who may have more facial hair than Rubio does, and who no one in their right mind would want using a girls’ restroom.
Wait a minute! Not only has Rubio misstated the law, there are no executive orders that require this at all. What Obama has ordered is that government contractors should not be allowed to discriminate when they’re getting government money. That’s not about bathrooms; it’s about whether a business can fire gay and trans people for being gay or trans, while taking taxpayer money. So, Rubio’s not even telling the right lie.
The way Rubio put it, “there are many government contractors and small companies who provide services to the government who are faith-based people, and they are, they are being compelled to sin by government in their business conduct.”
That’s an interesting argument, first made by some Christians in the Bible. Jesus rejected it, saying they should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.” In other words, if you enter the marketplace—let alone do business with the government—you have to play by the same rules as everyone else. That’s not a sin, that’s what Jesus said to do.
Rubio also took a hard line on the issue of religious exemptions. In addition to exempting churches, religious organizations, and religiously affiliated organizations, Rubio said he would “ensure people in the private sector and the not-for-profit sector are being protected in living out their faith.”
Those are nice words, but in practice, they would mean significantly expanded special rights for anyone who believes they should be exempt from the law. We’ve already seen how this plays out: men accused of abusing their wives have said they shouldn’t be prosecuted, because the Bible tells them so; doctors refused to treat the children of same-sex couples; pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions. Plus, corporations have refused to provide health-care coverage for contraception to women, or any coverage at all to the legally married same-sex spouses of employees.
Indeed, in a case now before the Supreme Court, one religious organization has refused even to check “no” on the government form regarding health insurance. Even saying no, they say, is too much a burden on their religion.
Rubio would protect all of this. Not just the Kim Davises of the world who want to opt out of doing their government jobs. Not just Catholic Charities, which takes government money to do adoption services but then refuses to place children with gay parents. But anyone in the private sector who says that child-labor laws, domestic-violence laws, or nondiscrimination laws don’t apply to them.
Third, Rubio confirmed that “one of the biggest things the next president is going to do is appoint justices to the Supreme Court.” In an Orwellian turn of phrase, Rubio used progressive rhetoric—“the Constitution is a living and breathing document”—to support a long-held conservative position, that “it’s supposed to be interpreted and applied based on its original intent.”
In case that wasn’t clear enough, Rubio spelled it out. “There is no way that you can read that Constitution and deduce from it that there is a constitutional right to an abortion, or a constitutional right to marry someone of the same sex…. So you need judges that understand how constitutionally flawed that those two kinds of rulings and others have been.” In other words, Rubio would appoint justices who would overrule Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage. The supposedly sane candidate wants to void marriages; allow states to ban all abortions of any kind; and turn back the clock for women and gays.
Of course, if the Constitution really is a “living and breathing document,” then it’s easy to deduce the rights which Rubio ridicules. The Constitution provides equal protection of the laws; that means that gay people, as well as straight people, have the right to marry. The Constitution also provides the right of due process, but when it comes to a woman’s body, there is no due process that could justify controlling her uterus and forcing her to remain pregnant. These issues may not have been understood in 1868, but that’s the point of having a “living and breathing document.” It didn’t freeze to death 150 years ago.
Rubio’s positions are no different from those of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and other candidates on the right—and that’s precisely the point. While successfully positioning himself as the alternative to the far right, Rubio has adopted positions identical to it.