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By Douglas Hanks and Steve Rothaus, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — As he considers running for president, Jeb Bush is not offering encouraging words about same-sex marriages coming to Florida.

“It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision,” the former governor said Sunday in a brief interview. “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”

His comments were in line with past statements by the Republican. But with Miami-Dade County ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as Monday if a judge approves — and the rest of the state following on Tuesday — the change is bound to bring even more attention to Bush’s somewhat guarded take on gay rights.

As governor, he was against same-sex marriage but wasn’t publicly enthusiastic about the successful 2008 campaign to rewrite the Florida Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Bush, who left office in 2007, said the change wasn’t needed, since state law already restricted marriage to heterosexual couples. Two years ago, he suggested in a PBS interview that gay parents could be held up as role models, even as he said “traditional marriage is what should be sanctioned” by the government.

In the 2012 interview, Bush said, “If people love their children with all their heart and soul and that’s what they do and that’s how they organize their life, that should be held up as an example to others, because we need it.” In a speech to a Republican group last year, Bush warned against being a party seen as against too many things, including being “anti-gay.”

Recent polls show that Bush is a top-tier contender for the 2016 Republican nomination. One of the big questions facing his potential candidacy is whether he’ll be seen as conservative enough for right-leaning voters that are key to the Republican nominating process, and moderate enough to capture the middle of the electorate that decides tight general elections.

In August, a federal judge in Tallahassee ruled Florida’s 2008 marriage amendment violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples. The judge, Robert L. Hinkle, stayed his own ruling until the end of the day Monday to allow for appeals. Both a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down requests from Florida’s attorney general to extend the stay until the appeal is heard.

The leader of a group fighting Florida’s gay-marriage restrictions criticized Bush’s comments Sunday as endorsing discrimination.

“So the people should have the right to enact a discriminatory law?” said Howard Simon, director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the same-sex couples in the federal case against Florida’s gay-marriage amendment. “That sounds like what he was saying. That unfortunately is consistent from what I remember about Jeb Bush’s tenure as governor.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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