In the immediate aftermath of President Obama's decision this week to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, many Republicans offered a muted reaction that has some wondering whether conservative opposition to same-sex marriage has waned.
But several of the party's high-profile social conservatives are vowing to make a robust effort on behalf of the law.
"There are some options available to us legislatively that we're looking at,'' said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during an address at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government Thursday. He did not offer details.
The Justice Department said Wednesday that it determined the 1996 act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes, is unconstitutional and therefore no longer necessitates a legal defense in court.
A House GOP aide familiar with the discussions said congressional lawyers were grappling with how to proceed in uncharted legal territory.
"Because Congress as an institution has lost its counsel to defend its law," the aide said, "Congress as an institution may have to step in and say 'we will defend our own law.' But there's little precedent for that."
Another alternative being considered, the aide said, is allowing an outside interest group to stand in for Justice Department lawyers and continue to carry the cases through the court system.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, confirmed the GOP deliberations and said he expects the party leadership will intervene.
"We've been in a lot of discussions with leadership, with members of Congress, and look, they're looking at the case, they're making decisions as we speak," Brown said on ABC News' "Top Line." "I expect them to step in and defend the law."
While some conservatives weigh whether to fill the void left by the government lawyers and defend DOMA before a judge, others have vowed to pressure the Obama administration to reverse course and penalize the Justice Department for its action.
"We have the authority to do a few things," said Iowa Rep. Steve King, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, in an interview. "One is to begin to reduce the Justice Department's budget. The resources that they would be using to defend the DOMA law in court are not necessary to appropriate to them."
King said he plans to introduce an amendment to the 2012 appropriations bill to "send them a message."
Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., urged supporters in a fundraising e-mail to join her "Support Traditional Marriage" petition with a goal of 50,000 signatures in 48 hours.
And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, seeking to mobilize his base, sent out a similar rallying cry to pressure Obama.
"This cannot and will not stand," he wrote in an email. "We need to defend marriage unequivocally and hold President Obama and the Democrats who support this move accountable for their actions.
"Help me identify 100,000 Americans willing to stand and defend marriage against this outrageous assault on our values."
As of Thursday night, Huckabee's petition had 15,780 signatures. There was no count posted for Bachmann's.
GOP Tepid on Marriage Debate
Republicans say their campaign to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage reflects the view of the American people.
Recent polling shows the country narrowly divided on the marriage question, and the president himself has said he grapples with the issue.
But initial reaction from some prominent Republicans seemed to suggest the debate is not as salient as it once was.
House Speaker John Boehner said this week only that it's not "the appropriate time" to stir up a controversial issue, and didn't even mention the word marriage.
Among those eyeing a bid for the White House in 2012, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the move an "unfortunate mistake."
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Huckabee both said they were "disappointed." And, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels haven't said anything publicly.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, also believed to be considering a bid for president in 2012, called on Republican leaders to mount a more forceful defense of traditional marriage, in an interview with USA Today.
Obama's decision is "pretty radical, in my opinion," Santorum said, adding that Boehner should "take up the cause and argue the cases" in court.
But he said he's not surprised that some of his fellow Republicans haven't been more aggressive for that cause.
The media cast advocacy against gay marriage "in terms of bigotry, in terms of discrimination, in terms of (being) homophobic," he said.
"As a result of that, people stay away from it. They don't want to be cast in that light by the media. And besides, we all have friends who are gay. I have friends who are gay. But they respect the fact that they disagree with them on policy."