Is Rubio's New 'Marriage and Family Advisory Board' About Anything Besides Opposing Gay Couples?

A closer look at the participants suggests a little more.


Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

In South Carolina Sen. Ted Cruz is trying to tighten his grip on evangelical conservatives by casting Sen. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as being weaker in opposition to gay marriage recognition. He's wrong on both counts (though Trump is arguably the most pro-gay candidate remaining among the Republicans). Rubio is opposed to gay marriage recognition, has said so regularly, and wants to appoint Supreme Court justices that would return decision-making back to the states. But he apparently acknowledged the legality of the Supreme Court's ruling mandating recognition and this somehow puts Rubio on the same side as President Barack Obama, according to Cruz.

Over the holiday weekend, where we celebrated both our love of each other and of aggrandizing the role of the president (or lamented the absence of both and maybe played a lot of Grim Dawn), Rubio attempted to counter Cruz's attack by announcing his "Marriage and Family Advisory Board." The 13 members of the board have backgrounds (some quite lengthy) in culturally conservative defenses of marriage. The Washington Blade picked up that many people on the board have been significant opponents of same-sex marriage recognition.

But is that all they are? I'd say the Blade is not wrong to classify the group as a whole as anti-gay marriage. Most of the participants are either members of activist groups that oppose same-sex marriage or have written independently in opposition to gay marriage. One member, Bill Wichterman, was a proponent of the Federal Marriage Amendment, and even jumped ship from Fred Thompson's campaign to Mitt Romney's back in the 2008 presidential race because Thomson didn't support a constitutional ban. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, recently had his college drop out of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities because two other colleges had decided to hire staff members in same-sex marriages.

But there is maybe more to the group than meets the eye. Whenever a social conservative brings up marriage and family issues, it's easy to assume he or she is talking about the culture war issues of same-sex relationships and abortion and that's pretty much it. But pay attention to Rubio's wonkishness (which can get lost in debates) and there is an interest in actual family-oriented economic policies that helps explain Rick Santorum's endorsement of Rubio beyond the shared interest in military intervention, domestic surveillance, and not liking gay marriage.

Rubio's issue page for families actually focuses on tax and economic issues, promoting a $2,500 tax credit for parents, eliminating the marriage penalty, and even a voluntary paid leave plan that would reward participating businesses with a non-refundable tax credit. He was asked to defend his tax plan in Saturday night's debate and said:

Here's what I don't understand, if a business takes their money and they invest in the piece of the equipment, they get to write to off their taxes. But if a parent takes money that they have earned to work and invests in their children, they don't? This makes no sense.

Parenting is the most important job any of us will ever have. Family formation is the most important thing in society. So what my tax plan does, is it does create - especially for working families, an additional Child Tax Credit. So that parents who are working get to keep more of their own money, not the government's money to invest in their children to go to school, to go a private school, to buy a new back pack.

So there's more to his family politics than just opposing abortion and gay marriage. The same can be said for at least some of the people in his new board. Robert Lerman and Bradford Wilcox, for example, both members of Rubio's board, put together a lengthy study showing the economic impacts and advantages of stable, intact families. The report did not pit straight couples versus gay couples; rather it was about analyzing the economics of married families versus unmarried families.

Kay Hymowitz, also on the board, wrote in 2004 an essay that critiqued the gay marriage movement as ignoring the historical roots of marriage as a social tool for promoting the proper rearing of children. But in 2015 Hymowitz signed on to the Marriage Opportunity Council, a bipartisan group that seeks to "make marriage achievable for all who seek it." Its co-directors are David Blankenhorn, who famously switched sides to support gay marriage in 2012, and Brookings Institute Senior Fellow and Reason contributor Jonathan Rauch, a notable supporter of gay marriage recognition. It is a group devoted to embracing marriage as a tool for improving social and economic opportunities for Americans, gay or straight.

Hymowitz's inclusion suggests there is more to this council than just harping on the gays. But whether she can serve as a counterbalance to some of the others in the group is an open question. I predict there's very little likelihood that the next president, no matter how conservative, will be successful in rolling back same-sex marriage recognition in any degree. So what matters is what sorts of policies they recommend that could actually get anywhere. Just imagine if Rubio got the marriage penalty revoked while same-sex recognition remained intact.