Jumping into the values debate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP 2016 standard-bearer, told a standing-room-only audience at Catholic University Wednesday that a disconnect on issues such as education, employment and traditional marriage has brought the United States to an unprecedented social and moral crisis.
An admitted advocate for traditional marriage as well as a supporter of the pro-life movement, Mr. Rubio attempted to find some common ground on the hot-button issues in the context of uniting the country around “the goal of equality of opportunity.”
“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians,” he said. “Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. Those who support same-sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislatures to change state laws. But Americans like myself, who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage, also have a right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing that overturned by a judge.”
But the freshman senator, a Roman Catholic, also complained that those who question gay unions have faced “intolerance” for their views from same-sex marriage activists.
“Even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as someone who is a hater or a bigot or someone who is antigay,” he predicted.
Mr. Rubio’s 2016 hopes for the Republican nomination have taken a hit with his active participation in the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate last year, a bill that includes a path to citizenship for illegal aliens that has proven deeply unpopular with many in the Republican base.
The Catholic University speech, highlighting his conservative social views, follows a string of policy addresses Mr. Rubio has given on issues ranging from college tuition costs to a scathing critique of President Obama’s foreign policy.
On another divisive social issue, Mr. Rubio said Wednesday that while pro-choice advocates can fight for a woman’s right to an abortion, those who are pro-life have a right to defend the life of an unborn child.
“It seems to me a decent, humane society will take tangible steps to help women with unwanted pregnancies, even as that society defends an unborn child’s right to live,” he said.
Mr. Rubio repeatedly stressed the need for a society with strong values as a way to rebuild the country.
“A strong America is not possible without strong Americans — a people formed by the values necessary for success, the values of education and hard work, strong marriages and empowered parents,” he said. “We will never improve our people’s economic well-being without also improving their moral and social well-being.”
Mr. Rubio, in his remarks, also touched on issues such as poverty and education. And though he called for bipartisan action in promoting those subjects, he volunteered his own thoughts and a few solutions.
“Low-income children are the least likely to get a good education because they are the only ones forced to attend schools not of their parents’ choice,” Mr. Rubio said. “In order to give them a chance at the first element of the success sequence, we need our government to give their parents the opportunity to choose the education that is right for them.”
He has proposed tax credits to spur scholarships for lower-income children to attend private schools and more flexibility and funding for charter schools.
Even if young people get a good early education, there’s still the challenge of finding a well-paying job, the senator said. Mr. Rubio said that making reforms at the vocational or collegiate level can help struggling working-class families find the best fit in terms of time and price tag.
“In the 21st century, a good education is not just an option, it is a necessity,” he said. “And no group in America faces more impediments to a good education than children being raised by single parents, many of whom are doing a heroic job of raising their children by themselves.”
The hall at Catholic University was packed with a mostly youthful audience, providing a sweltering backdrop as Mr. Rubio spoke.
Talking about employment opportunities, he joked at one point that some of his listeners could become “an air conditioning technician, so they could be here today.”