After citing a recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando as the reason why he wants to continue in public service, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is set to appear at an event just miles away from the Pulse nightclub that’s being hosted by anti-LGBT leaders.
Rubio is scheduled to keynote the event, called “Rediscovering God in America,” which is hosted by the Florida Renewal Project and set to take place between Aug. 11-12 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. It’ll take place on the two-month anniversary of the Orlando shooting.
According to Right Wing Watch, Liberty Counsel Action, the political arm of a conservative legal group known for defending Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, announced Rubio’s planned appearance in an email last month.
Right Wing Watch has detailed the anti-LGBT history of other individuals set to appear at the event. Among them is Mat Staver, co-founder of Liberty Counsel, who has a long history of pushing litigation championing anti-LGBT causes, including defense of Davis and lawsuits against state bans on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Last month after the Orlando shooting, Staver lamented some churches turned memorial gatherings into a “homosexual love fest.”
David Lane, whose organization, the American Renewal Projec, is hosting the event, has said gay rights will lead to the “utter destruction” of the United States and “car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Des Moines, Iowa.” Another scheduled attendee is David Barton, a Republican Party activist, who has said God is preventing a cure for HIV/AIDS because it is a divine “penalty” for gay people.
Rubio is set to keynote the event in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, which left 49 people dead and 53 wounded. Although he initially planned to retire from the U.S. Senate after his presidential campaign ended in March, Rubio said the tragedy at the gay nightclub changed his mind.
During an interview in June with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt, Rubio acknowledged just before he announced his re-election bid that the shooting was changing his mind on his decision not to run.
“I haven’t even given it thought in that perspective, other than to say I’ve been deeply impacted by it and I think when it visits your home state, when it impacts a community you know well, it really gives you pause, to think a little bit about your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country,” Rubio said.
Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, assailed Rubio for participating in the event.
“The event ‘Rediscovering God in America Renewal Project’ is a who’s who of some of the country’s most hateful anti-LGBT persons,” Cruz said. “It’s incredulous a senator of the United States is willing to collude with individuals who are dedicated to oppressing LGBT people. The beliefs shared by this group actively harm LGBT people. This is not the America we want. God will not be found anywhere near that event.”
The senator has his own anti-LGBT history, which includes votes against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and co-sponsorship of the First Amendment Defense Act, a “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination. Rubio didn’t cast a vote when the Student Non-Discrimination Act came to the floor of the U.S. Senate last year.
During his presidential campaign, Rubio praised the late U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia for his dissent in the ruling for marriage equality, criticized LGBT advocates seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples through litigation and pledged to reverse President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
In the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard, Rubio scored a “22” out of 100. The senator earned points only for voting in favor of an LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Over the weekend, Rubio published his issues pages on his campaign website. Yet on his Second Amendment page pledging to protect the “sacred rights” of gun ownership, there is no mention of the Orlando shooting even though the senator cited it as his reason for seeking re-election.
“Dissenters try and stigmatize gun owners, but as we all know, responsibly exercising one’s Second Amendment right could mean the difference between life and death,” the webpage says.
Rubio’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether it’s appropriate for the senator to attend the anti-LGBT event after citing a mass shooting at a gay nightclub as a reason to continue in public service.
Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Rubio in the general election also criticized the senator for attending the anti-LGBT event. Their primary is Aug. 30.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), a two-term member of Congress, called Rubio’s attendance at the anti-LGBT event “an appalling insult” to the Orlando victims.
“Marco Rubio used the horrific tragedy at Pulse as a reason to run for re-election and instead of honoring the lives of those we lost, he is speaking at an anti-LGBT event on the two month anniversary of the attack,” Murphy said. “This is an appalling insult to those we lost and their friends and family who mourn them. Marco Rubio is failing to stand up for all of his constituents, and he’s failing to show a basic sense of human decency.”
Also criticizing Rubio was Rep. Alan Grayson, who was more succinct and said, “Marco Rubio just can’t seem to get his hate straight.”