Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Friday called for a debate on same-sex marriage "irrespective of what the courts say" — declaring that an upcoming Supreme Court ruling would not be the final word on the issue.
"It’s got to be important over the long haul, irrespective of what the courts say," the former Florida governor said to applause from religious conservatives at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" summit in Washington.
Bush was among 12 Republican candidates and hopefuls speaking at the summit, which began Thursday and ends Saturday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
"We need to make sure that we protect the right not just of having religious views, but the right of acting on those religious views," Bush said. "This conscience should also be respected when people of faith take a stand for traditional marriage."
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether Americans have a constitutional right to same-sex marriage by the end of the month. Many legal scholars expect the justices to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states.
Other candidates speaking at the summit Friday included former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. Declared candidates speaking on Saturday include former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Hewlett-Package CEO Carly Fiorina.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will keynote the Patriot Gala on Saturday night.
The summit is among several events featuring GOP presidential contenders in recent weeks, following activities in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Speaking on the role of his Catholicism in his personal and public life, Bush stressed the importance of children being raised in traditional homes.
"In a country like ours, we should recognize the power of a man and a woman loving their children with all their heart and soul as a good thing, as something that is positive and helpful for those children to live a successful life," he said. "And while there are people who disagree with this, we should not push aside those who do believe in traditional marriage."
Bush said faith had a critical role in many of the decisions he made while in the Florida Statehouse from 1999 to 2007. Those included signing a ban on partial-birth abortions and endorsing policies to allow "seniors to age with dignity" via reforms at senior homes and housing centers.
"I stood on the side Terri Schiavo and her parents," Bush declared, referring to the 2005 end-of-life case.
"That should be the first and most important instinct in this nation filled with charitable hearts: to stand on the side of the most vulnerable, the innocent," Bush continued. "If we do that, if we treat people with the same dignity and respect that we believe that we should receive, we're going to solve a lot more problems than giving up that basic concept and allowing government be the end-all and be-all.
"We can shut down government if we all acted on our sense of consciousness about helping others," he said.
The former governor also charged that "religious freedom now is under attack in ways that we've never seen before.
"Whether it's the Obama administration or just the general culture, it's important for us to recognize that it's been a few rough years for religious charities and their right of conscience in this country," Bush added. "There seems to be an attitude that when the prevailing government policy run headlong into the views of the faithful, the faithful must yield."
He highlighted the battle between the Little Sisters of the Poor Home of the Aged over contraception mandates imposed by Obamacare as an example of "a federal agency dictating to a Catholic charity … and never mind the objections of conscience.
"I don't know about you, but I'm betting that when it comes to doing the right and good thing, the Little Sisters of the Poor know a lot better than the regulators of the Department of Health and Human Services," Bush said to applause.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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