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Jeb Bush tries to thread a needle on marriage rights

How does a GOP presidential candidate oppose marriage equality and sound "moderate" at the same time? Jeb Bush is trying to pull this off. It's not going well.
Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Coral Gables, Fla. on April 19, 2013. (J Pat Carter/AP)
Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Coral Gables, Fla. on April 19, 2013.
As marriage equality arrives in Florida, the Miami Herald asked former Gov. Jeb Bush, an apparent Republican presidential candidate, for his thoughts on the developments.
"It ought to be a local decision. I mean, a state decision," Bush said on Sunday. "The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it's been overturned by the courts, I guess."
In a written statement yesterday, Bush offered a little more depth.

"We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law," Mr. Bush said in a statement. "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."

To be sure, this represents an evolution in the former governor's approach. During his 1994 gubernatorial campaign, Bush's first bid for public office, he wrote an op-ed that wasn't respectful at all. On the issue of gay rights, Bush wrote, "We have enough special categories, enough victims, without creating even more," he wrote. Bush added, "[Should] sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No."
A spokesperson for the former governor said yesterday that the 1994 piece "does not reflect Gov. Bush's views now."
And while that's a nice shift in posture, it leads to the obvious question: what are Bush's views now? The answer tells us something important about the kind of national candidate Bush will likely try to be.
The substantive difference between the 1994 Jeb Bush and the 2015 Jeb Bush effectively does not exist -- he opposed marriage equality then and he opposes marriage equality now.
What's changed is his tone. During his first gubernatorial campaign, Bush saw no need to be respectful of the LGBT community, but during his first presidential campaign, the Florida Republican apparently sees value in a more measured temperament. What we have, in other words, is a GOP candidate trying to thread a needle -- Bush doesn't want to be a moderate, he just wants to sound like one.
As was true in 1994, Bush has no qualms about denying same-sex couples equal-marriage rights, and if he had his way, the gay couples tying the knot today throughout Florida would be prohibited from making their vows. The difference is, Bush believes he can deny Americans their basic rights in a "respectful" way. While some Republican presidential candidates oppose marriage equality on ugly terms, Bush will oppose marriage equality in a more polite way.
One gets the distinct impression that, as the Republican presidential race begins in earnest, Bush hopes conservativism with a smile is more palatable than the alternative, even if the substantive differences are largely a mirage.