CNN — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday he hopes immigration rights for same-sex couples "doesn't become a central issue" in the ongoing debate, referring to it as a "landmine" that could thwart attempts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package.
In a wide-ranging interview with BuzzFeed that streamed live online, the junior senator from Florida also raised questions about climate change and whether the government should play a role in combating it.
President Barack Obama has signaled that both issues -- immigration and the environment -- would be top priorities in his second term, pitting the president and the senator against each other as Washington grapples with how to confront the two topics.
Rubio was one of eight senators in a bipartisan group last week that outlined their framework for immigration reform. While their blueprint entailed similar proposals as the president's plan, some LGBT groups were quick to point out that the "Gang of Eight" did not include protections for same-sex couples who face legal battles in the immigration system.
Under federal law, same-sex couples facing visa obstacles are not granted the same rights as heterosexual couples, meaning a citizen could not sponsor his or her partner for legal status. Obama's plan states that it would "keep families together" by "giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner."
Asked Tuesday whether same-sex couples should be covered in any immigration package, Rubio said the group hadn't discussed the "pros and the cons of it."
"I can tell you this," he continued. "This issue is so complicated. The immigration issue has so many landmines and pitfalls that it's going to be hard enough to do, as is. I think if that issue becomes a central issue in the debate, it's just going to make it harder to get it done because there's going to be a lot of strong feelings about it on both sides."
Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, added he "respects peoples' views" and is "willing to listen to anyone's arguments" but reiterated, "I hope that doesn't become the central issue of this debate."
"I imagine that issue will eventually be confronted," he later added.
The subject, however, is already gaining traction. On Tuesday, the president met with a number of labor and progressive groups at the White House, including an LGBT organization called "Immigration Equality." Also Tuesday, a group of 16 House members, including two Republicans, re-introduced the "Uniting American Families Act," a bill that would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor permanent partners for legal residency.
"Today, thousands of committed same-sex couples are needlessly suffering because of unequal treatment under our immigration laws, and this is an outrage," Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said in a statement.
Rubio later stated in the interview that he opposes discriminating against people based on what they do in "the privacy of their lives," but reaffirmed he personally believes the definition of marriage should be between a man and a woman. Ultimately, he said, it's up to the states decide the marriage issue.
As for climate change, Rubio said that the "fundamental question" is whether manmade activity is contributing to changes in global temperatures. "I understand that people say there is a significant scientific consensus on that issue, but I've actually seen reasonable debate on that principle."
He further argued that unilateral steps taken to reduce carbon emissions or implement other energy efficiency regulations could have a "devastating" impact on the economy and questioned whether there is "anything government can do about that that will actually make a difference."
The costs may outweigh the benefits, he contended, saying more populous countries like China and India contribute far more pollution, and any environmental steps made in the United States would likely have a "very negligible impact" on the Earth, as a whole.
While Obama has yet to bring specific measures to Congress on climate change during his second term, he vowed in his inauguration speech to "respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."