Advocates for LGBTQ rights say Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is 'consistently on the wrong side of equality.'
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who ran for reelection in 2016 as an LGBTQ ally, has consistently fought against equal rights for LGBTQ people. Now he's seeking a third six-year term without even pretending.
Rubio, who faces no primary opposition, is likely to face Democratic Rep. Val Demings in November.
A former Orlando Police Department chief serving her third term in the House, Demings has been a staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights. The Human Rights Campaign PAC endorsed her in March; HRC interim President Joni Madison said in a statement: "Demings will bring something to the U.S. Senate on behalf of Floridians that has been missing for too long — a champion for marginalized people, especially LGBTQ+ people, Black people and women. Her track record over many years and her unwavering support of the Equality Act demonstrates her belief that everyone is entitled to the same rights and should be able to live lives free from discrimination."
Madison added, "Meanwhile, her opponent has done precisely the opposite, positioning himself as an obstacle to LGBTQ+ equality in the Senate."
In October 2020, Demings tweeted: "Proud to receive another 100% rating from @HRC. LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and I’ll never stop fighting for equality."
A Rubio spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story. But despite framing his 2016 reelection as a chance to protect the LGBTQ community from violent attacks like the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in June of that year, Rubio has always been a reliable vote against equality.
Backed Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill
Rubio defended the Florida law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed on March 28 by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that bars public schools from mentioning LGBTQ families and people in classes with students until the fourth grade.
Before it was enacted, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy responded to the "Parental Rights in Education" bill with a warning: "Learning that people are different and that not all families look the same—these are important lessons that start early in life, including in school. They help create a society based on understanding and respect. They help children know they belong even if they are different. ... Preventing or criminalizing efforts to foster such understanding hurts kids & families. It shuts down dialogue instead of nurturing healthy conversation. And it sends a signal to LGBTQ+ youth that they are not fully accepted."
Rubio tweeted in response, "In essence @SurgeonGeneral argues that schools should be having discussions with children from 5 to 8 years old about sexual orientation & gender identity," adding a verse from the biblical Book of Isaiah that is often interpreted and wielded on the right to condemn homosexuality: "Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah!"
Rubio was asked what he thought of the bill on March 14 by an interviewer on Tampa Bay ABC affiliate WFTS' "Full Circle Florida." Rubio responded:
Well, first of all, to call it "Don't Say Gay," which is what people have done, is ridiculous. That's not what the bill is about at all. The bill basically says that sexual orientation is just not something schools should be talking to children about, children from kindergarten to sixth grade. Why are schools talking to kids about that? We send our kids to school to learn how to read, to learn how to write, to learn about history, to acquire academic proficiency. We don't send kids to school so the schools can raise our kids. We send them so they can teach them. Raising kids is the job of parents and families, not schools.
Fought to stop marriage equality
In 2010, Rubio ran for Senate as an opponent of same-sex marriage.
In 2011, he endorsed an effort by House Republicans to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 and barred federal recognition of state same-sex marriages until it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, after the Obama administration stopped doing so, calling it a "critical law" that "protects one of our most sacred institutions."
In 2012, he recorded robocalls for the National Organization for Marriage, a group dedicated to stopping same-sex couples from marrying, to mobilize anti-LGBTQ voters.
In April 2015, Rubio told the Christian Broadcasting Network, "There is no federal constitutional right to same sex marriage. There isn't such a right. You have to have a ridiculous reading of the U.S. Constitution to reach the conclusion that people have a right to marry someone of the same sex."
When the Supreme Court ruled two months later in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution does guarantee the right of adults to marry the person of their choosing, regardless of sex, Rubio condemned the ruling and suggested that new justices should be appointed who would reconsider.
"As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood," he said in a press release.
"Perhaps a future court will change that decision, in much the same way as it's changed other decisions in the past," he told reporters days later. "But my opinion is unchanged, that marriage should continue to be defined as one man and one woman."
Opposed adoption by LGBTQ people
In 2006, Rubio, then the Florida House majority leader, told the Tallahassee Democrat that he opposed lifting the ban.
"Some of these kids are the most disadvantaged in the state," he said. "They shouldn't be forced to be part of a social experiment."
Fighting against civil rights protections
Rubio was asked by ThinkProgress in June 2013 whether it should be legal to fire someone based only on their sexual orientation. "By and large I think all Americans should be protected but I'm not for any special protections based on orientation," he answered.
A few months later, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have added protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal employment law. A spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times: "This legislation goes far beyond protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and he is currently studying what kinds of burdens it could impose on small businesses, frivolous lawsuits that could result, and ensuring that religious freedoms under the First Amendment are protected."
Rubio threatened to oppose his own 2013 immigration reform bill if it were amended to include protections for married same-sex couples of which one one spouse was a U.S. citizen and one was not. "If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I'm gone. I'm off it," he warned CNN that June.
He told NBC News in March 2014 that while gay people should be able to eat at restaurants and stay at hotels, he supported special protections for business owners who want to discriminate. "I also don't believe however that a caterer or a photographer should be punished by the state for refusing to provide services for a gay wedding because of their religious-held beliefs," Rubio argued. "We've got to figure out a way to protect that as well."
Erasing transgender people
Rubio has demonized transgender people and criticized any effort to affirm their civil rights.
He mocked the use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the inclusive term "pregnant people," which signals awareness that both cis women and gender minorities can become pregnant.
"It's unfair to allow biological men to compete in women's sports," Rubio tweeted in March 2021, misgendering transgender girls and urging that they be excluded from school athletics.
In October of that year, he went on the right-wing network Newsmax and urged Pope Francis to demand that President Joe Biden protect the the right of Catholic schools to discriminate: "So if someone shows up and they’re an atheist, you have to hire them. If someone shows up and they're anti-Catholic and you're a Catholic school, they can't discriminate on the basis of that. Not to mention if they're transsexual or lives a lifestyle that goes contrary to the teachings of the church. I hope things like that — religious liberties in the United States are an issue that he raises."
In 2022 he has baselessly questioned the safety of gender-related care for transgender youth and pushed legislation to punish businesses that voluntarily make such care available to employees' families.
A zero on LGBTQ equality
The Human Rights Campaign issues scorecards indicating how often members of each Congress vote for or against LGBTQ rights. In each of the past three Congresses, Rubio received a zero score — meaning he opposed equality at every single opportunity.
In 2016, during Rubio's failed presidential bid, the group published a fact sheet titled "Marco Rubio: Consistently on the Wrong Side of Equality."
"Whether the issue is marriage equality or protecting workers from discrimination, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has consistently opposed giving LGBT Americans equal treatment," it noted.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.