Former Florida governor and possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush has described opponents of marriage equality as “safeguarding” religious liberty.

In a statement released Monday after gay couples started marrying in Miami-Dade County, Bush called for “respect for the good people” on all sides of the same-sex marriage debate.

“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Bush said.

“I hope that we can also 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.”

In a 1994 The Miami Herald op-ed, Bush wrote that he didn't want to see “sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion.”

Allison Tant, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, criticized Bush's comments.

“Jeb Bush remains as out of touch as ever with Floridians and voters nationwide on the civil rights issue of our time,” Tant said in a statement. “Bush championed these discriminatory policies as governor, and it's a shame that he remains determined to stand for the forces of bigotry.”