06/17/2013 11:24 am ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

On Immigration, Rubio Draws His Line In the Sand: Queers

Correction: A previous version of this post misattributed two columns by the Daily Caller's Mickey Kaus to Matt Lewis. We regret the error.

It's high-noon for immigration reform in the Senate, and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the most intriguing and high-profile politician among the bill's primary architects, is also the one with the most on the line. Long considered a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Rubio continues to (ever more hesitantly) stand by his creation, despite an avalanche of criticism from former sycophants who once heralded him as the Great Brown Hope of a party in decline.

Foremost among these critics has been Mickey Kaus, an ardent immigration hawk. For days now, he has been waxing apocalyptic on his blog over the dawning of the end-times that will be ushered in by the passage of this bill. According to Kaus, if it passes, then President Obama, using Rubio as his tool, will have "transformed what America is," since the Hispanic share of the electorate -- and hence Democrats' electoral prospects -- will increase upon legalization. There is considerable irony in this position, given that many other right-wing populists' infatuation with Rubio has centered largely around the idea that the GOP could win the Hispanic vote if only it slapped a brown face on its agenda. On the one hand, then, Hispanics are gullible morons who will vote for anything as long as a brown person is promoting it -- but on the other, these incorrigible leftists will transform the country if only a few million more of them are permitted to vote. Okay, then.

To be sure, I do not really mean to single out Kaus; he is simply emblematic of the right-wing populist revolt against Rubio. Kaus' fuller critique of the bill, incidentally, isn't without its merits: its prescriptions for securing the border -- a goal favored not just by populist right-wingers but by the vast majority of Americans -- are indeed toothless. The bill is packed with textbook legislative sleight-of-hand tricks that are meant solely to give senators rhetorical ammunition when they are confronted by angry immigration-hawk constituents. This attempt at deception -- yes, that's what it is -- might ordinarily be enough for a generally down-the-line right-winger like Rubio to withdraw his support. He certainly has the cover for it. But, intriguingly, that hasn't been the case: to the surprise of many observers, Rubio has steadfastly stood by the bill, acknowledging its holes but reiterating the urgent need for reform.

But fear not, right-wingers, thy wish has been granted! Marco Rubio has finally discovered his line in the sand: queers!

Vermont's Patrick Leahy introduced an amendment to the bill this week that would establish (long-overdue) legal equality for the same-sex foreign partners of American citizens, allowing them to obtain green cards -- just as the law allows for heterosexual couples.

One would think that such a proposal would be relatively non-controversial. But the good Senator Rubio, tiring of the avalanche of outrage from his base and desperate for an escape hatch, had this to say about the Leahy amendment: "If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I'm done...I'm off it, and I've said that repeatedly. I don't think that's going to happen and it shouldn't happen."

So, here is where matters stand, then: Rubio is concerned about the bill's lack of substance regarding border-security issues -- but that's excusable, since implementing a pathway to citizenship is so urgent. But if there's one thing he absolutely cannot abide -- if there's a red-line beyond which it again becomes okay to delay this much-needed reform -- it's equality for gay and lesbian couples. That, above all else, is something that Senator Rubio just cannot tolerate.

What to make of Rubio's stance, then? He's not a coward -- this is certainly a bold stance, given the electorate's shift toward support for GLBT equality. And he's not an idiot -- this will make as good an excuse as any among conservative Iowa caucus voters. Depressingly, one is left with the unshakeable feeling that Marco Rubio is just a bigot. That he would be the Republicans' golden boy in 2016, let us bury that fantasy right now. He is a younger, darker face for an old, tired agenda -- and anything but the revolutionary figure that the party needs to attract young and minority voters. If this bill must die, at least let Marco Rubio's presidential ambitions die with it.