There’s Nothing Moderate About Jeb Bush’s Position On Gay Marriage

Is 2016 going to be a repeat of the 2000 election, with a member of the Bush family able to sail into the White House above a more popular member of the Clinton team by successfully hoodwinking the public into thinking he’s more moderate than he is? The chilling realization that Jeb Bush really could be the next president settled in over me this week with the news that he’s staking out the “moderate” position on same-sex marriage by sticking to the line that same-sex marriage should be a matter left up to the states. It’s a position that has troubling echoes of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” nonsense in the 2000 elections, a little bit of spin to convince voters you’re not one of those scary Bible-thumpers while continuing to be everything the scary Bible-thumpers could want out of a presidential contender.

“Leave it up to the states” is one of those lines that exists purely to push a hard-right agenda while pretending it’s actually a flexible, moderate agenda. This was true when Barry Goldwater argued that the basic human rights of black people should be determined on a state-by-state basis, and it continues to be true today.

For people who are still stuck on the idea that discrimination is somehow less offensive if conducted on a more local level, I recommend reading about the bigoted temper tantrum being thrown at the courthouses in many Florida counties in response to a court ruling that found Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. In anticipation of this ruling, many courthouses in the state are refusing to marry anyone if they have to extend the service to gay people. “It was decided as a team, as an office, this would be what we do so that there wouldn’t be any discrimination,” Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell told the Florida Times-Union. “The easiest way is to not do them at all.”

While the bigots in question are playing this off merely as a matter of “conscience,” it’s easy to see how this is a straight-up attempt not to excuse themselves from participating by preventing same-sex marriages altogether, but creating entire counties where the only authorities who can marry couples are religious authorities, most of whom—at least in rural, conservative areas—will also refuse to marry gay couples.

Conservatives can pull stunts like this, realizing most people aren’t going to take the time to look at the actual, real-world effects of these policies and instead will see them as moderate compromises on the issue of gay rights.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Jeb Bush himself is a master of being a rightwing wolf in moderate sheep’s clothing, at least on the gay rights issue. In December, the New York Times reported on thousands of emails from his time as Florida governor that Bush released to them in response to a public records request. Bush’s ability to hoodwink mainstream media into believing he’s moderate is on full display in this one quote from writer Jonathan Martin:

He was less of a hard-liner, though, when a gay Floridian hoping to win a job in Mr. Bush’s administration gently asked if his sexual orientation would present a problem.
“On the other stuff, don’t ask, don’t tell is fine with me,” Mr. Bush responded, appropriating the terminology President Bill Clinton used regarding gays in the military. “What you do in your private life is your business. If it crosses over into the public policy realm, then that is another matter. If you are comfortable with that, then we can proceed.”

Martin may be convinced this is a gentle approach, but in reality, as the military experience showed, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is just a fancy new term for a very old concept, which is forcing gay people to be in the closet. There’s nothing new, enlightened, or moderate about pushing a double standard, where gay people are supposed to hide their identities and relationships in shameful silence while straight people get to wear wedding rings and put pictures of their spouses on their desks. It’s the same old hardline anti-gay approach, just done in a way that appears more tolerant without actually being more tolerant.

We’ve been down this road before, with much of the media eating up George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative” line until huge numbers of the public were convinced that there wasn’t any real difference between Bush and Gore. It wasn’t enough to actually win the election for Bush, but it got him close enough that the Supreme Court was able to hand it to him, whereupon the public found out that our supposedly moderate Republican in the White House was a rabid right winger with a, what’s the word, hardline religious right agenda. You’d think the lesson would be learned and a little more skepticism, at least when it comes to men named “Bush” who fashion themselves as merely moderate conservatives, would be in play, but here we are all over again.

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.

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