Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (R-Fla.) may only be days into his campaign for the presidency, but if his book is any indication, he’s already headed for a Romney-esque 47 percent moment of his own.

In his new book, American Dreams, Rubio lays out his vision for addressing poverty, an area that Republicans have sidelined for far too long. But while Governor Romney shot himself in the foot by essentially labeling 47 percent of Americans as free-loaders for receiving government aid, Rubio has already cordoned off more than 40 percent of children for being born into what he considers the wrong types of families—those without married, mom-and-dad parents. Though Rubio writes that “we need to move our…institutions into the twenty-first century—not simply pour more money into them,” his discussion of the family paradoxically undercuts that idea. Instead of seeing families as they are, he sees families as they were, ignoring the children of gay couples, writing off the children of single parents, and alienating millennials by spending big on marriage promotion. 


Rubio calls for defending unconstitutional state laws that ban gay couples from marrying, but it’s time to recognize that that train has already left the station. As of 2012 (the latest year with available data), more than 110,000 gay couples were raising children. Since then, 31 more states (in addition to the six where it was already legal) have sanctioned marriage for gay and lesbian couples and the Supreme Court may soon sweep up the rest. Rubio believes these children and families are part of the problem. “At a time when the American family is threatened as never before,” Rubio writes, “redefining it away from the union of one man and one woman only promises to weaken it as a child-rearing, values-convening institution.” But what does marriage—between any couple—convey if not love, commitment, fidelity, and responsibility? 

American Dreams doesn’t just ignore the children of gay couples and the validity of their families—it also writes off the 40 percent of children born to single parents as lost causes. Rubio issues a very strong indictment of the 17.4 million children who live only with mom, the 2.8 million just with dad, and another 2.8 million who have no biological or adoptive parent in the home when he writes, “If we are willing to say that smoking causes cancer…then we must also be willing to acknowledge that broken families cause poverty and diminished futures for our children.” Instead of comparing single moms to a deadly disease, we should tackle the difficult task of making sure that these children have as much opportunity to succeed as their commensurate two-parent peers. Rubio’s proposal to block grant poverty assistance as ‘state poverty flex funds’ won’t actually do anything ensure that the children of single-parent families have the resources and assistance they need—nor will his suggestion of doing away with the EITC, one of the most successful antipoverty programs of all time. To frame the American Dream as only available to children with heterosexual married parents won’t fly in a nation where that is increasingly less likely to be the norm. 

Millennials like me have a different take on marriage than the generations who came before us and we’re less wedded to the antiquated definition of family Rubio relies on.

We’re half as likely to be married as the Baby Boomers were at our age, less trusting of institutions, far less religious, and more likely to have a woman as the principal breadwinner. Maybe that’s why it’s so discordant to us when Rubio proposes pouring tax dollars into gauzy but ineffective “marriage promotion programs,” with billboards depicting happy couples designed to convince people to get married. Marriage promotion is not just bad politics, it’s also bad policy, showing no positive effects on marriage, marital stability, relationship quality, or children’s wellbeing. This is not to say that Rubio is wrong when he suggests eliminating existing marriage disincentives in public policy. We should. But his single-minded focus on the Leave It To Beaver definition of family—a show that many of us were too young to watch even in reruns—not only does not resonate with millennials, but turns us off completely. 

Rubio ends his book by writing that “the twentieth century is over, and it is never coming back.” He’s more right than he realizes—the narrow twentieth-century understanding of what it means to be a family is out-of-date, and ignoring that won’t solve the mobility crisis or brand Rubio as a different kind of Republican. 

Trumble is the senior policy counsel for Social Policy & Politics at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C.