When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced he was exploring a bid to run for president, the Democrats let loose their opposition research.
Bush then posted the talking points on his own Facebook page, denouncing the attacks as "silly" and "misleading."
The DNC attacked Bush’s statements and positions on a long list of topics, saying that another Bush presidency would mean policies "that wreck the economy, that give massive breaks to the wealthy and corporations, and that are out of step with American people including women, LGBT Americans, Latinos and people of color. The reality is that Jeb Bush is no different than almost all Republicans on issue after issue."
Among the talking points was this one: "Bush not only opposes marriage equality, he’s said he ‘personally’ believes gay couples should be banned from adopting children."
The timing of that particular attack caught our eye, because in recent months plaintiffs have filed lawsuits to overturn Florida’s gay marriage ban, which voters approved in 2008. Federal Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in August that the ban is unconstitutional, but he stayed his order to allow for appeals. After the U.S. Supreme Court rejected requests to extend the stay, Hinkle told county clerks they will be violating the U.S. Constitution if they don’t issue same sex marriage licenses on Jan. 6. A Miami-Dade judge allowed gay marriages to proceed in that county Jan. 5.
Here, we’ll look at whether the DNC was accurate in saying that Bush opposes same-sex marriage and believes gay couples should be banned from adopting children.
While in office from 1999 to 2007, Bush consistently opposed gay marriage, though he was not a leading crusader against it.
In 2004, Bush’s brother President George W. Bush proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriages. At the time, Florida law did not allow for same-sex marriage, though there was no specific ban on it in the state Constitution. In 2004, 11 states approved their own gay marriage bans.
A spokeswoman for the DNC pointed to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat that stated: "Bush supports his brother, President George W. Bush, in seeking a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman."
Over the next few years, religious conservatives in Florida worked to get a question on the ballot banning gay marriage in the state constitution, and they succeeded in 2008.
Bush faced questions about it while in office. At times, he showed some support with caveats for a state constitutional ban, but he also often said that he was reluctant to change the Constitution.
"If there was a threat that gay marriage would be accepted in our state, then I might be supportive of it," Bush said in November 2004, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "I'm not sure it's necessary to do this in a pre-emptive fashion."
It’s worth noting that when Bush was in office, he had plenty of company among both Republicans and Democrats in opposing gay marriage. It wasn’t until May 2012 that President Barack Obama made a Full Flop in favor of gay marriage. And it wasn’t until March 2013 that Hillary Clinton announced she now supported gay marriage. That same month Bill Clinton denounced the Defense of Marriage Act that he had signed in 1996.
In 2001, a federal judge upheld Florida’s ban on gay adults adopting. The state argued that married heterosexuals provided a more stable home (even though the state allowed single people to adopt). Bush supported that ruling.
As Bush faced re-election in 2002, the ban remained a hot topic as a challenge winded its way through federal appeals court. Bush said he was reluctant to take a stand since the issue was in court.
"I think it's an issue that is marginal to the bigger issue, which is, how do we get children in loving homes?" Bush said.
Bush’s position on gays adopting came up during an October 2002 debate when he faced re-election against Democratic rival Bill McBride.
"If you're going to have permanency, it should be with a loving couple that is a man and a wife. That is the law of this land, it's in the courts, but I also believe that personally," Bush said.
A poll done for the Orlando Sentinel during that race showed that a majority of Floridians at the time opposed gays adopting and same-sex marriages.
In January 2004, a federal appeals court upheld the ban.
"The decision validates Florida's conclusion that it is in the best interest of adopted children, many of whom come from troubled and unstable backgrounds, to be placed in a home anchored both by a father and a mother," Bush said in a news release.
In 2010, a state appeals court struck down the ban.
Bush’s comments since he left office
In an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose in 2012, he seemed to express some tolerance for gay parents and used softer language to talk about gay couples.
"I think traditional marriage is what should be sanctioned and not at the expense of discriminating in other forms of family structure." Bush said. "So I don’t support it, but I would say that wholesome loving family life ought to be kind of the organizing principle in a free society. If we don’t want to have government overwhelm us, then we have to be self-governing. ... And if people love their children with all their heart and soul, and that’s what they do, and that’s how they organized their life, that should be held up as examples for others to follow, because we need it. We desperately need it, and that can take all sorts of forms. It doesn’t have to take the one that I think should be sanctioned under the law."
In a statement to reporters at an event at Mississippi College in March 2013, he said the U.S. Supreme Court should not decide the issue: "I am a supporter of traditional marriage. I do think that these decisions should be made at the state level, so I hope the constitutional amendment in California is not overturned."
(He made his comments a few months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act and dismissed a case on Proposition 8, California’s law that banned gay marriage.)
Bush told the Miami Herald on Jan. 4 in a brief interview, "It ought to be a local decision. I mean, a state decision. The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess."
We asked a spokeswoman for Bush about his stance on gay adults adopting and marrying. Initially, we did not get a reply. But soon after we published this report, a spokesperson sent us two comments from Bush.
On gay couples adopting: "Previously, I opposed gay adoption, but it has since become the law in our state, and I respect that decision."
On same-sex marriage: "We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. I hope that we can also 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."
The DNC said that "Bush not only opposes marriage equality, he’s said he ‘personally’ believes gay couples should be banned from adopting children."
As Bush continues to explore running for president, he may provide more specific comments about his current views, but for now we are rating the DNC’s statement based on the evidence that was available at the time they made the statement. While in office, Bush repeatedly said that he opposed gay marriage, although he was reluctant at times to amend the state Constitution since it was already banned in state law. He also opposed gay adults adopting children. Since leaving office, Bush said that he supports "traditional marriage," though he has used a softer tone when asked about it, and did so again when we asked about it. The statement is accurate but needs additional information, so we rate this statement Mostly True.
Update: Several hours after this item was first published, we received a reponse from Bush's staff, and this report has been updated to include his comments. The ruling remains the same.
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Politico, "Leaked: Democrats attack plan for Jeb Bush," Dec. 19, 2014
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, Facebook post about DNC talking points, Dec. 19, 2014
Project Vote Smart, "Statement by Governor Bush regarding the ruling of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals," Jan. 28, 2004
Orlando Sentinel, "Poll: Many oppose adoption by gays," (Accessed in Nexis) July 1, 2002
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Salon, "When Jeb Bush speaks, people cringe," Oct. 5, 2002
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Miami Herald Debate Transcript, Jeb Bush vs. Bill McBride, (Accessed in Nexis) Oct. 16, 2002
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PolitiFact, "President Barack Obama’s shifting stance on gay marriage," May 11, 2012
Interview, Rebecca Chalif, Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, Dec. 29, 2014
Interview, Nadine Smith, Equality Florida CEO, Dec. 29, 2014
Email interview with Kristy Campbell, Jan. 5, 2015
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