WASHINGTON — Americans who oppose same-sex marriage often face “intolerance” from those who support it, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Wednesday in a speech about values that appeared aimed at wooing social conservatives.
In remarks he said were likely to get him criticized as a bigot, the Florida Republican told an audience at Catholic University that a strong America is impossible without Americans who hold strong values. Seeming to seek a debate over those values, he criticized liberals who defend abortion rights for women but not protections for “the unborn.”
While Rubio has consistently held conservative positions on gay marriage and abortion, his current emphasis appears to be an appeal to social conservatives who have yet to settle on a favored presidential candidate for 2016.
“Even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as someone who is a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s remarks on social issues come as he is trying to recover from his failed push for an immigration overhaul, now seen as a political misstep.
Rubio helped write the bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed the Senate but stalled in the House as some Republicans balked. Conservatives grew wary of the measure, and the Republican-led House signaled the comprehensive Senate plan would go nowhere.
Rubio did not include immigration in his speech, which focused on the merits of marriage, raising children in two-parent homes and educating them with values. But a member of the audience did ask Rubio about his immigration legislation’s hopes in Congress.
“I just don’t see how we ever get the support in Washington any time in the next decade” unless lawmakers are convinced the flow of immigrants coming to the United States across its southern border has stopped, Rubio said. The unfolding crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border gives him little hope, he said.
Rubio’s priority seems to be winning back the support of the activists who have clout in picking the GOP presidential nominee. Social conservatives have unquestionable sway in the leadoff Iowa caucuses. Fiscal and libertarian-minded conservatives dominate New Hampshire’s primary. In South Carolina, religious issues top voters’ priorities.
Rubio has been working to make himself more acceptable to factions within the fractured GOP. His series of speeches so far have been as varied as high-tech investments, college affordability and a muscular foreign policy. He has quietly been courting leaders from all corners of the Republican coalition ahead of an expected presidential bid.