"I wouldn't agree with their ruling, but that would be the law of the land that we would have to follow until it's somehow reversed — either by a future Supreme Court, or a U.S. constitutional amendment, which I don't think is realistic or foreseeable," he said.
He said he expects the question "is ultimately going to find its way to the U.S. Supreme court," noting that many federal courts have recently issued rulings overturning state bans on gay marriage. Indeed, many court watchers expect the Supreme Court to take up a case
on that very issue this month, and potentially deliver a ruling this Spring.
That prospect, and the end of Florida's same-sex marriage ban this week, have brought the issue back into the national spotlight and sparked a fresh debate within the Republican Party over gay marriage, which the party's social conservative base staunchly opposes.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is preparing for a potential run for president, offered a careful statement respecting
the decision for the Florida development.
During a Tuesday interview with CNN in the Capitol, Rubio declined to evaluate Bush's comments because he said he hadn't seen them.
But the senator, who is contemplating a presidential run of his own, said he would respect federal courts' decisions to overturn gay marriage bans.
"My position on [gay marriage] is pretty well-known. I mean, I believe that the institution of marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman. I understand that voters in some states have changed that, and I respect it," he said.
"And, you know, we have a court system that's beginning to weigh in — and whatever the law is, we're going to abide by it and respect it."
But his Tuesday comments came in contrast to remarks he made in a speech at Catholic University in July defending state legislatures' and voters' rights to oppose gay marriage without judicial interference.
"Americans like myself who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have a right to work to keep traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge," he said
, according to Politico.
The Florida senator clarified during his Wednesday phone conversation that he felt his remarks did not constitute a shift from his July speech — that while he felt the court was mistaken, the state's officials had no option but to abide by it.
"I think [the court's decision] is wrong, both on legal principles, and I also think it's the wrong way to" reverse Florida's gay marriage ban, which was approved by voters in 2008. He said the proper way to overturn a gay marriage ban is to offer an opposing ballot measure for the state's voters to again consider.
But he added: "I don't think [Florida's] clerks have a choice, at this stage, given that the ruling is there unless there's a stay," to follow the court's decision and issue marriage licenses.
Rubio said if ultimately the Supreme Court issued a ruling protecting gay marriage as constitutional, opponents of gay marriage would be "in the same boat as opponents of Roe v. Wade," the SCOTUS decision that established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
The controversy surrounding the issue underscores the tension inherent in the Republican Party's efforts to expand outreach beyond the GOP's traditional base of social conservatives, as the nation as a whole moves towards widespread acceptance of gay marriage and more state legislatures overturn gay marriage bans.
It's likely to become a hot-button issue in the GOP presidential primary as contenders jockey to differentiate themselves in what's expected to be a wide-open field.
Bush's recent announcement that he's "actively exploring" a bid is expected to dissuade some from entering the race, and his launch this week of a leadership PAC and super PAC
heightened speculation over his bid.
Many expect that if Bush runs, Rubio, who shares much of Bush's political circle in Florida, won't — but the senator said Tuesday it won't impact his decision.
"There'll be multiple people running for president. They're all going to build organizations and raise money," he said, noting that if Bush runs he'll be a "very formidable candidate."
But he added: "I think once someone makes a decision and that's what they want to do to serve our country, you do that irrespective of who else might be in the race."
"No one's decision would have a bearing on whether I decide whether that's where I want to serve or not — not just his," Rubio continued.
Rubio has the unusual challenge of deciding whether to run for reelection to the Senate or for president in 2016. If he does decide to launch a presidential bid, he'll likely face stiff competition from a number of his colleagues in the Senate, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both of whom have made little secret of their interest in the race.
But Cruz, passing Rubio on his way to the Capitol, gave Rubio a brotherly pat on the back and joked to a reporter, "Whatever he says," before rushing off, as Rubio laughed.
Rubio later said his relationship with Cruz was "good."
"I hopefully get along with all my colleagues. We don't all agree on everything, especially with my Democratic colleagues on some key issues, but hopefully we get along with everyone," he said.