IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Courting Conservatives, Rubio Clarifies Stances on Social Issues

Recent comments add additional layers to his already nuanced stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.
Image: Marco Rubio
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council meetings in Washington, DC, November 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty ImagesJIM WATSON / AFP - Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio is seeking to clarify his stance on a number of hot-button social issues as he he works to gain support among conservatives in the GOP presidential primary.

But recent comments on gay marriage and abortion could further complicate his effort, as they add additional layers to his already nuanced stances on the two controversial topics.

Last week, Rubio said in an interview that where “God’s rules” and “civil authorities” come into conflict, “God’s rules always win.”

“If you look at biblical lessons, the first thing is, we are clearly called in the Bible to adhere to our civil authorities, but that conflicts with our requirement to adhere to God’s rules, and so when those two come in conflict, God’s rules always win,” he said in an interview with David Brody for the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “Brody File,” an excerpt from which was published last week.

Rubio continued, arguing that “if we are ever ordered by a government authority to personally violate and sin, violate God’s law and sin, if we’re ordered to stop preaching the gospel, if we are ordered to perform a same-sex marriage as someone presiding over it, we are called to ignore that.”

But Rubio added in the same interview that people of faith should also participate in ways to "peacefully change the law."

"If you live in a society where the government creates an avenue and a way for you to peacefully change the law, then you’re called to participate in that process to try to change it, not ignoring it, but trying to change the law," he said.

The comments underscore the Florida senator’s complicated stance on the laws surrounding gay marriage. He has at times seemed to waver between advocating outright civil disobedience and instead seeking to overturn the laws at the state level with a ballot measure.

When the issue was tested in practice with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue gay marriage licenses, Rubio gave a noncommital statement, calling for “a balance between government’s responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions.”

“While the clerk’s office has a governmental duty to carry out the law,” he added, “there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office.”

Rubio personally opposes gay marriage, but his stance on marriage laws is more nuanced.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, Rubio had argued the issue should be left up to the states, but that if a state had a law on the books protecting gay marriage its clerks had no choice but to follow the law.

And when the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage came down, Rubio said in a statement that, “while I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law.

“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 wrote.

The issue could pose him a challenge in Iowa, where the GOP primary electorate includes a sizeable social conservative bloc that staunchly opposes gay marriage. And according to David Brody, Rubio’s support from pro-gay marriage GOP donor Paul Singer in particular has been a “concern…in some evangelical circles.”

But Brody said he appeared to successfully alleviate those concerns in a closed-door meeting with pastors in Iowa last week to which Brody was given exclusive access. Rubio offered his typical reassurance to the crowd that “when someone cooperates with my campaign, they are buying into my agenda. I am not buying into their agenda,” a line he’s used to respond to concerns over the dark money groups and other big donors financing parts of his campaign.

He also said that “Mr. Singer has never ever tried to change my mind or deeply discuss with me the issue. He knows where I stand on the issue.”

According to Brody, Rubio “left pastors in the room thoroughly impressed with not just his head knowledge about the Bible but his heart as well.”

“He changed some minds after those sessions with pastors,” Brody wrote.

Rubio has also faced questions about his stance on abortion, which he has said he opposes in all cases, including rape and when the life of the mother is threatened. Democrats have seized on that as a key line of attack as they seek to weaken him in case he breaks through to the general election.

In an interview with the Associated Press, however, Rubio made clear he would, “as president, sign a bill with exceptions” for rape and the life of the mother.

“I do not personally require a bill to have exceptions — other than life of the mother — in order for me to support it,” Rubio added. “But I will sign a bill as president that has exceptions.”

During his meeting with pastors in Iowa last week, Rubio insisted that he would never change his mind on gay marriage or abortion.

“If I were to change my position on those issues or even waver on them, I would now be in direct conflict with my church and I would be in direct conflict with what I teach my children. And at that point, I can tell you then I’ve lost the essence of who I am. So that’s just not going to happen...I have never changed a political position for a campaign donor,” he said.