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Jeb Bush hints at support for legal protections for gay couples

In a slight shift in his position, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested Monday that he might be open to some form of legal protection for gay couples that stops short of the right to marry.

"We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue -- including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty," Bush said in a statement, according to the New York Times.

Same-sex marriages in Florida are about to become legal. The courts have ruled the state's ban unconstitutional and ceremonies are set to begin Tuesday, although a judge ruled that couples in Miami-Dade County could begin getting licenses on Monday.

Federal court upholds same-sex marriage bans ... 00:26

Bush's comments on same-sex marriage were the most liberal from him on the issue yet. Even as recently as this past weekend, he seemed reluctant to accept the court's mandate that marriages begin.

"It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision," he told the Miami Herald Sunday. "The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it's been overturned by the courts, I guess."

He has shied away from criticizing individuals who are gay, telling Charlie Rose in 2012 that gay parents "should be held up as an example to others" if they "love their children with all their heart and soul and that's what they do and that's how they organize their life."

It's a marked shift in tone from the Jeb Bush who first ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994, writing in a Miami Herald op-ed at the time, "[Should] sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No." He was arguing that people who are gay did not deserve special legal protection.

Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told BuzzFeed News that the old piece, "does not reflect Gov. Bush's views now, nor would he use this terminology today."

"Gov. Bush believes that our society should have a culture of respect for all people, regardless of their differences, and that begins with preventing discrimination, including when it comes to sexual orientation," she said.

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