Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush indicated Thursday that he thinks existing laws sufficient to ensure men and women are paid equally for the same work, but that he would back legislation in the states to prevent workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT Americans.
Speaking to employees at San Francisco tech startup Thumbtack, Bush faced questions from the audience about a range of issues where Republicans break with the city’s largely liberal and libertarian ethos, including equal pay legislation, LGBT issues and gun control.
The first question to Bush came from a former Floridian and gun owner who praised Bush’s record on education, but said he disagreed with his position on gun control legislation. “That should be driven by the states,” Bush said in reply, adding that he and the questioner would likely have to agree to disagree on the question.
“Wages should be equal, and there are laws to make it so, and they should be enforced,” Bush said in response to a subsequent question from one female employee, implying he thought that existing statutes were effective at making it so. The employee cited the oft-used statistic that by some measures women are paid 79 percent of what men make for the same work. Bush interrupted her to ask whether that was the case at the startup.
She replied, “Not in this office,” prompting Bush to proclaim, “Thank goodness.”
An employee who identified himself to Bush as being gay asked about Bush’s position on legislation to ban discrimination of LGBT Americans. “I don’t think you should be discriminated because of your sexual orientation. Period. Over and out,” he replied.
Bush continued: “The fact that there wasn’t a law doesn’t necessarily mean you would have been discriminated against.” He added that in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, the country must work to carefully balance the rights of those seeking to marry and the religious beliefs of those who oppose those unions.
Citing the frequently-used example by religious freedom advocates, Bush said that in the case of a florist approached by a gay couple, “you should be obligated to sell them flowers, doing otherwise would be discriminatory.” But he said that the objecting florist should not be required to participate in the wedding, a fine line that he hopes will appeal to all sides of the debate.
When the employee followed up to ask specifically whether he would support anti-discrimination laws for LGBT Americans for their housing and employment—the next target for gay rights marriage advocates—Bush said he would at the state level.
“I think this should be done state-by-state, I totally agree with that,” he said.