Florida Sen. Marco Rubio defined marriage to evangelical Republicans in Iowa on Saturday as an institution between a man and woman that "existed even before government itself."
"We should never have any policies that stand in the way of marriage," Rubio told nearly a thousand people at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Summit at the Point of Grace Church just outside Des Moines. "The institution of marriage as one man and one woman existed even before our laws existed.
"Thousands of years of human history has taught us one simple truth: the ideal setting in which to raise children and instill in them values is when a mother and a father married to each other living in the same home raise those children together," the senator said to applause.
Rubio's speech marked his first appearance in the Hawkeye State since announcing his presidential candidacy earlier this month. He was among nine Republican presidential contenders — including two other announced ones — speaking at the daylong summit.
The summit, in its 15th year, is sponsored by the Iowa unit of the Faith & Freedom Coalition established by Ralph Reed in 2009. The nonprofit organization is based in Duluth, Ga. The state holds its caucuses in February in the first test of the 2016 presidential season.
Other speakers include declared candidates Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky; Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas; and former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina.
Many of the hopefuls spoke last week at the New Hampshire Republican Summit, which was sponsored by the state's Republican Party. The Granite State holds its primaries the week after the caucuses.
Other speakers included Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King.
Throughout the evening, the speakers emphasized strong American values and called for religious freedom, visionary leadership in the White House, a streamlined tax code and other federal regulations, a no-nonsense foreign policy backed by a fortified military — and a comprehensive energy policy that includes the Keystone XL pipeline.
Rubio kicked off the summit, emphasizing that "you cannot have a strong country without strong people — and you cannot have strong people without strong values.
"No one is born with strong values. Values have to be taught to you," he added. "They have to be taught in the most basic cell of society, the family. They have to be reinforced by the voluntary groups and churches in our community that help parents raise their children."
"The social and economic well-being of our people are inextricably linked — and it should not be a surprise that our country struggles economically because families are falling apart.
"It should no surprise us that the single biggest contributor to poverty is the disintegration of American families," Rubio said. "We need leaders who understand this fundamental truth."
In his speech, Perry walked about the stage, declaring: "America is ready for a second chance right now. America is ready for a leader to give it a second chance, economically.
"We're only a couple good decisions and a leadership change at the top away from the best years that America has ever had," he told the cheering crowd.
"It is time for America to be America again: to lead, to have an influence around the world, to have a military that is backed strong so that American values — Western values — are again protected."
Citing many of the events that the nation has faced throughout its history — the Civil War, the Depression — Perry concluded: "This is a resilient country.
"We made it through Jimmy Carter. We'll make it through to Obama years," he said to resounding applause. "This is our time to put America back on track."
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