GOP Frontrunner Jeb Bush Fumbles Position on Marriage Equality

Supporters of marriage equality celebrated a milestone yesterday when county clerks in Florida began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. With the expansion of marriage rights into the third largest state, marriage equality is now the law of the land in 70 percent of the United States, a remarkable turnaround on an issue that was considered political poison just a few years ago.

The victory was not welcomed unanimously, of course. Among the first to speak for the dyspeptic was Jeb Bush, Florida’s former governor and the GOP’s putative 2016 presidential frontrunner. It was Bush’s first campaign-related statement this year — and it did not go smoothly.

In a rush to prove that he’s not the moderate folks outside Florida seem to think he is, Bush aligned himself with the most illogical and unworkable position on the spectrum: the status quo. In an interview with the Miami Herald on Sunday, Bush said, “It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision. The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”

In other words, marriage rights in the United States should remain a patchwork of laws so that the marital status of gay couples comes and goes as they travel or relocate from state to state — a situation that on its face violates the Equal Protection Clause.

On Monday, Bush clarified his position in a written statement published in the New York Times:

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

Don’t tell the tea party, but Jeb’s position on marriage has moved leftward in the past few years. Back in 2006, then-Gov. Bush agreed with his brother, Pres. George W. Bush, that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to ban same-sex marriage.

Bush’s conundrum, like that of less than hard-right GOP presidential candidates, is that his voters’ position on this issue is well outside the mainstream. An NBC poll in April 2014 found that 53 percent of Americans support marriage equality, while exit polling in the November midterms found that over 70 percent of Republicans oppose it.

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