Editor’s Note: Senator Marco Rubio delivered a speech at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, July 23, on the importance of family values and social issues to American exceptionalism. An abidged version of his message is below; video of his speech is available here.
Judged by most modern standards, my background is certainly not one of privilege. My parents worked service-sector jobs, never made much money and had no connections to power or influence. And yet I consider myself to be a child of privilege.
I was raised by two parents who were married to each other, who instilled in us the expectation that we would get our educations, work toward careers, and one day get married and start families of our own. My parents gave me an enormous advantage because they instilled in me the values that led me to go about my life in a specific sequence.
In America, if you get an education, find a good job, and wait until marriage to have children, your chances of achieving economic security are incredibly high. In fact, if everyone in America lived lives that went in this order, the poverty rate could be cut by an estimated 70 percent.
But now, each element of this “success sequence” is eroding in our country. The economic and cultural price of this erosion is staggering.
No one is born with the values behind the success sequence. They have to be taught to us, and they have to be reinforced. Strong families are the primary and most effective teachers of these values. And they are reinforced in our churches, our civic groups and our society.
Societal breakdown is not a problem the government alone can solve. But it is also not one the government can afford to ignore. That is why we need leaders willing to use the platform of public office to call attention to the impact societal breakdown is having on our nation. We also need government reforms that remove impediments to education, work, marriage, and two-parent homes.
I have proposed policies that would bring higher education within reach of all of our people, promote a growth-oriented economy that will produce millions of new jobs, and roll back the penalties placed on marriage by our tax code. My policies would also empower single mothers and children growing up in broken homes to better their situations and achieve economic security.
In short, the policies I have proposed will bring each step of the success sequence within reach of our people. The success sequence is a useful way to talk about and measure the health of values in our nation. But in our national discussion on the issue of values, there are two heavily debated topics that also require our attention.
The first of these is same-sex marriage. At the outset, it is important to openly acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. This is shameful and must be condemned. Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are vestiges of this discrimination. I respect their arguments, but there is another side to this debate.
Societies around the world have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman for thousands of years. And because traditional marriage has an extraordinary record of success at raising children into strong and successful adults, in our country, states have long elevated this institution in our laws. In weighing both arguments, that is the definition that I personally support.
Those who support same-sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislature to change their state laws. But Americans, including me, 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 or a court, and without being targeted with hate speech.
Our nation has demonstrated an incredible capacity to work through issues such as this. And I believe it will again. Doing so will require those of us who support traditional marriage to respect the views of those who support same-sex marriage. But it will also require those who support same-sex marriage to respect the views of those who support traditional marriage. For tolerance is a two-way street, and intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.
The second controversial issue, abortion, involves an even more fundamental moral question. It is a difficult question because it forces us to choose between two competing rights: a woman’s right to make choices regarding her own body versus the right of an unborn human being to live.
Those that argue that it is a woman’s right to make that choice raise valid and compelling points. It is the woman who must carry the pregnancy. It is her alone who will face the risks of childbirth. And too often, it is her alone who will have to provide for and raise the child.
But there is another person involved in this as well: an unborn child — a human being who also has rights, primarily the right to live. And that is why this issue so deeply divides not just our politics, but also our families and our people.
In weighing these two arguments, I have concluded that the unborn child’s right to live holds greater weight. Not because I seek to have government control a woman’s right to choose, but because I believe we have an obligation to defend an unborn child’s right to live.
We will continue to debate the issues of marriage and abortion — and I suspect continue to be divided by them — for years to come. But we are all impacted by the growing erosion of our faith in the American dream, and no plan to restore the American dream is complete without addressing the values behind the success sequence and the principles behind strong families. We will never improve our people’s economic wellbeing without also improving their moral and social wellbeing.
A strong America is not possible without strong Americans – a people formed by the values necessary for success, the values of education, hard work, strong marriages and empowered parents. These are values that made us the greatest nation ever, and these are the values that will lead us to a future even better than our past.
— Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.