Likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush doubled down on his opposition to same-sex marriage this weekend, telling the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that he did not believe gay and lesbian couples had a constitutional right to wed.
“I don’t,” the former Florida governor said when asked if there should be a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, “but I’m not a lawyer, and clearly this has been accelerated at a warp pace.”
The remarks were, arguably, unsurprising coming from Bush, who’s repeatedly stated his support for “traditional marriage” -- albeit, while simultaneously softening his stance via sympathetic language about “respect for the good people on all sides” of the issue, as well as a vague willingness to attend a same-sex wedding if asked. The constitutionality question is also, as Bush hinted in the interview, not really up to him or any other presidential contender to answer; it’s up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hand down a ruling on the matter at some point in the next few weeks.
But what LGBT advocates may find more troubling about Bush’s one-on-one with “The Brody File” Saturday were his remarks about the rights of religious business owners to refuse to work with same-sex couples on their wedding days -- an issue that is fast emerging as the next front in the battle for LGBT rights, and one that the next president can expect to address in some capacity. Asked whether it’s OK for florists or bakers to deny services to same-sex couples who are getting married, Bush replied: “Yes, absolutely, if it’s based on a religious belief.”
Bush pointed to a recent lawsuit against a Washington state florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for the wedding of a same-sex couple as “the best example” of what he was talking about. In February, a judge ruled that the florist’s “relationship with Jesus” was not a good enough reason for her to violate the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. While Washington is in the minority of states that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the lawsuit is one of several such cases now driving Republican lawmakers to push for so-called “religious freedom” legislation that critics warn would sanction discrimination against LGBT people.
“She [the florist] had a regular customer who came in, and she would provide flowers to him,” Bush summarized. “And he was going to marry his significant other, asked her to participate as a friend in the wedding, to help organize it. And she thought about it and said, ‘Look I love you, you’re my friend. But I can’t participate. It goes against my conscience.’”
Over the past two years, as nationwide marriage equality grew bigger on the horizon, GOP lawmakers have proposed dozens of “religious freedom” bills designed to protect individuals, business, and in some cases, government employees from having to participate in a same-sex wedding and violate their sincerely-held beliefs. Opponents to the legislation argue that the First Amendment already protects those beliefs, and that in many instances, the bills are written so broadly as to invite discrimination against virtually any group of people on religious grounds.
Only a handful of states have seen these “religious freedom” bills become law in the last couple of years due in large part to widespread opposition from the business community. That outcry reached a fever pitch earlier this year when Indiana and Arkansas passed their own versions of the legislation, sparking criticism from Wal-Mart, the NCAA, and Nascar, among other organizations. Both states’ Republican governors ended up requesting “fixes” to the measures so as to make clear that they could not be used by businesses to turn away LGBT patrons.
Bush on Saturday said that “religious freedom” need not be so controversial.
“A big country, a tolerant country, out to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs,” he said. “This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.”