(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the latest Republican to enter the 2016 race, said on Tuesday, "there may come a point where military action is necessary" in Iran -- "because anything is preferable to Iran having a nuclear capability."
In a conversation with CNN's Jake Tapper, Rubio also said it should be up to the states, not the federal government or the courts, to define marriage as they see fit; and he advocates immigration reform, including a "probationary period" for the 12 million people who are in this country illegally, after which "they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency."
Tapper noted that Rubio was among the "gang of eight" U.S. senators who backed an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but later died in the House.
Rubio said he's learned that such a "massive piece of legislation, especially on something like immigration, just really has no realistic chance of passing." He now favors a piecemeal approach, beginning with border security.
"Well, here's the process I support," Rubio told Tapper. "I think the first thing we have to do before anything else, because it's the only way you are going to be able to do anything else, is we have to prove -- not tell, prove -- to the American people that future illegal immigration is under control.
"That means securing that one sector in the border that remains insecure. That means an entry/exit tracking system to prevent visa overstays. That means an E-Verify system.
"If we did those things, then I believe we will have the support politically and policy-wise to do two very important things, first, modernize our legal immigration system, make it a merit-based system, as opposed to simply a family-based system. And then we're going to have to deal with the fact that we have 12 million people in this country who are here illegally, who have been here longer than a decade or more.
"And I have outlined the process for dealing with that. And I think it's well-established one. They come forward, they pay a fine, they start paying taxes, they get a work permit. And that's all they can have for a substantial period of time. And after they have completed this probationary period, they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency, just like anybody else would."
Tapper told Rubio that many Republican voters consider that to be amnesty.
"Well, I think it's amnesty, in their mind, if the law is not being enforced," Rubio replied.
"What people's main complaint was about all this is, you are going to go ahead and legalize 10 or 12 million people, but they're never going to do the enforcement and you're going to have another 10 or 12 million people here in another 10 years. And I think that's a legitimate concern, especially given what's happened with the migratory crisis last summer."
Gay marriage an issue for the states
On same-sex marriage, Rubio said he believes that same-sex marriage should be determined at the state level.
He noted that he never supported a U.S. constitutional amendment defining marriage "because I believe states define marriage in their laws." He said people who want same-sex marriage "can petition a state legislature to change the law."
"But the second point I would make is, I don't -- I think there's still a significant number of Americans that believe that the definition of marriage should be that of one man and one woman, as it has been for thousands of years. And that continues--"
"But they are a minority," Tapper interrupted him.
"Well, they're a large minority. In essence, there are still parts of this country that believe that way," Rubio continued. "But irrespective of it, we're in a republic. If you want to change the marriage laws of your state, go to your state legislature and get your legislators to change it. I don't believe the court system is the appropriate way to do it. And I don't believe Washington and the Supreme Court is the appropriate way to do that."
Military action in Iran
On Iran, Rubio said, "I think that military action should only be taken when it's the best option available." But he also said, "There may come a point where military action is necessary because anything is preferable to Iran having a nuclear capability akin to what you find in North Korea.
"I wouldn't say that is something we would do tomorrow, and it is certainly something we would not announce. But it needs to clear that that is an option available to us, if all else fails."
Rubio said "absolutely," he would push for stronger sanctions on Iran before considering military action.
"[W]e would hope that there would be leadership shift in Iran at some point that would make them realize that either you're going to have an economy, a modern economy and a prosperous one, or you're going to have a -- or a nuclear weapon, but you can't have both. And at that point, if they don't realize that, then certainly military strikes is something that are on the table -- I'm not sure it's something you would announce."