Sen. Marco Rubio’s fledging 2016 campaign got a lesson in presidential politics when he drew fire for potentially contradicting himself on whether he had ever supported a nationwide ban on gay marriage.
"I’ve never supported a federal constitutional amendment on marriage," Rubio told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt during an April 11 interview.
But in an article on its website, the network pointed to a 2010 voter guide from the Christian Coalition that asked Rubio and his opponents Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek their stance on several issues. Next to the topic "Federal Marriage Amendment to prevent same sex marriage," Rubio’s position is listed as "Supports."
What set PolitiFact’s bells ringing is that the voter guide is the only place we can find where Rubio apparently said he supported an amendment to the country’s constitution banning same-sex unions. That’s going to keep the statement off our Truth-O-Meter, because we don’t want to weigh in here when we can’t definitively confirm or debunk the position.
The Christian Coalition, which didn’t return our phone call or email, told MSNBC it stood by its voter guide. A spokeswoman said the guide was compiled from a survey Rubio filled out in 2010. The guide was then checked against candidates’ past statements and votes (VoteSmart.org did the same thing, for example, because Rubio would not answer the question about same-sex marriage directly). The group told the network they couldn’t find the survey without looking through their archives.
"I can't explain the survey, but I can confirm he’s never supported the FMA (federal marriage amendment)," Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon told PolitiFact.
Here’s what we know about Rubio’s position on gay marriage, which he generally opposes.
As speaker of the Florida House, Rubio did support Florida’s Amendment 2 in 2008, a measure banning same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Sunshine State. That year, 62 percent of voters supported banning gay marriage. In August 2014, though, a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional, a move Rubio blasted earlier this year when he told Politico, "If they wanted to change that law, they should have gone to the Legislature or back to the Constitution and try to change it."
As far as federal laws, when Slate asked him in 2009 whether he supported a federal amendment, since he hadn’t addressed the issue in his 2006 book, 100 Innovative Ideas For Florida’s Future. "I have mixed feelings about that," Rubio replied.
Rubio in 2011 praised House Speaker John Boehner’s fight to save the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Rubio called DOMA a "critical law" and lamented President Barack Obama’s choice that year to no longer defend it in court. But that’s not the same as saying he supported changing the U.S. Constitution.
There is a possibility that the Christian Coalition’s survey was somehow filled out incorrectly, according to Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor.
"It is fairly routine for staffers to fill out these voter surveys ... and that is probably what happened with the Christian Coalition guide," Jewett said. "Of course, it is possible that Rubio did for that brief moment say he was in favor of the constitutional amendment in his attempt to burnish his credentials as the social conservative in the race and differentiate himself more from Meek and Crist."
He also pointed out that this was the only question on gay marriage in the guide, which didn’t allow for much nuance. Rubio’s opposition to the issue may have resulted in some shorthand on the survey.
Rubio’s not the only one to run into trouble with voter surveys for races that were years ago. Obama faced similar questions in 2008 when positions contrary to his platform appeared on a 1996 Illinois voter group’s survey. The then-candidate’s campaign at first blamed the problem on an aide filling out the questionnaire incorrectly, but Politico discovered Obama had actually been interviewed for the survey. Sources speculated Obama may have been hedging his answers for a national audience, although some said his opinions may have simply changed.
Starting in 2012, Rubio started to indicate he did not support a constitutional amendment. When asked if he sided with GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney in favor of an amendment, Rubio told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, "Ultimately, marriage is regulated by states, so that is where it remains and where it should remain, and that is what most people believe."
He also recorded a robocall for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex unions, but the audio of that call wasn’t made public, so we don’t know exactly what he said. But the following year, Rubio reiterated his stance on a federal change in an interview with BuzzFeed.
"I’ve always been uncomfortable with a federal constitutional amendment on anything, particularly on that, because I think it steps on the rights of states to define marriage," he said. "I think that’s a two-way street, though. If states define marriage as between one man and one woman, if you’re going to say it belongs to the states, then you have to respect whatever decision they make."
Rubio opposed benefits for same-sex couple to the extent that he said he’d give up on his own 2013 immigration bill if an amendment if same-sex benefits were included. "If this bill has something in it that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I'm done," he said.
By 2015, he noted he would abide by a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, should justices find state bans unconstitutional. "I wouldn't agree with their ruling, but that would be the law of the land that we would have to follow, until it's somehow reversed," he said.
At the same time, he publicly supported Attorney General Pam Bondi’s fight against the federal ruling in Florida that lifted the state’s 2008 ban.
"I do not believe that there is a U.S. Constitutional right to same-sex marriage," he said. "Now as I've said before, states have a right to change their laws. I don't believe it's unconstitutional. I just don't believe there's a constitutional right to it."
In his 2015 book, American Dreams, he repeated his view on state authority: "And as attitudes change, we have seen state laws change the definition of marriage as well. I do not agree with or support these changes. But I also do not question that the elected representatives in the individual states have the right to make these changes."
If we find additional evidence that Rubio did support a federal marriage amendment, we’ll revisit the issue and rate it on our Truth-O-Meter. (If you know of additional evidence we haven’t included, email us at [email protected]) For now, we don’t find firm evidence that he’s changed position, so we leave his comments unrated.
MSNBC, "Marco Rubio: Obama was a ‘backbencher’ in Illinois legislature," April 14, 2015
MSNBC, "Christian group contradicts Rubio claim on gay marriage position," April 14, 2015
Christian Coalition, "2010 Christian Coalition Voter Guide," accessed April 14, 2015
Politico, "Obama had greater role on liberal survey," March 31, 2008
Slate, "An Idea in Every Pot," May 2009
Tampa Bay Times, "The GOP’s Senate candidates," Aug. 22, 2010, accessed via Nexis
CNN, State of the Union with Candy Crowley transcript, Aug. 29, 2010
Marco Rubio website, "Senator Marco Rubio On The Defense Of Marriage Act," March 4, 2011
Think Progress, "Rubio Breaks With Romney On Marriage Equality, Says It Should Be Left To The States," May 17, 2012
Washington Blade, "Rubio participating in NOM robocalls against marriage equality," Nov. 2, 2012
BuzzFeed, "Marco Rubio Walks Fine Line On LGBT Rights," Feb. 6, 2013
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Huffington Post, "Marco Rubio: 'I'm Done' If Immigration Bill Includes LGBT Couples," June 13, 2013
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Orlando Weekly, "DOMA is Done, But Gay Floridians Still Must Defeat the State's Anti-Gay-Marriage Amendment," July 3, 2013, accessed via Nexis
Catholic University of America, "Sen. Marco Rubio Delivers Address on Values at CUA," July 23, 2014
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Interview with Jim Harper, Equality Florida spokesman, April 15, 2015
Interview with Brooke Sammon, Marco Rubio spokeswoman, April 16, 2015
Interview with Brandon Lorenz, Human Rights Campaign spokesman, April 16, 2015
Interview with Aubrey Jewett, University of Central Florida political science professor, April 16, 2015