Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson, campaigning Friday in Iowa's socially conservative northwest, stopped short of supporting a constitutional amendment explicitly banning gay marriage.
His stance puts him at odds with many in the GOP base in Iowa, where the caucuses launch the 2008 nominating season.
Instead, Thompson said the alternative measure he supports would effectively outlaw same-sex marriage without imposing a federal mandate on states.
"I do not think one-size-fits-all, national, federal solutions absolving the states of their responsibilities for good laws too is the way to go," the former Tennessee senator told reporters on his campaign bus after a stop in Le Mars.
Thompson was on his second day of campaigning in Iowa, having launched his campaign from Des Moines and headlined a rally in Council Bluffs Thursday. The familiar television actor, lawyer and former lobbyist spent the day traveling through the most strongly Republican part of Iowa on Friday, and was scheduled to headline events in Cedar Rapids and Davenport on Saturday.
Thompson was asked during a campaign stop in Sioux City if he supported a federal ban on gay marriage, which most but not all of the candidates seeking the 2008 GOP nomination support.
He responded by suggesting the U.S. Constitution be amended to bar court decisions in one state on gay marriage from being recognized in another. The provision is part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which Thompson voted for in the Senate.
Giving a Sioux City audience of about 250 a first glimpse of his positions on key issues, Thompson also said he would include in a constitutional amendment prohibitions on a judge's authority to declaring gay marriage legal without legislative approval.
"What we're seeing here is a totally judicially created problem," Thompson told an audience of roughly 250, mostly Republican activists from northwest Iowa, during a 30-minute event at the Sioux City Convention Center.
"My approach would attack the problem where the problem is, the judiciary," Thompson later told reporters.
A 2004 Iowa Poll by The Des Moines Register found 64% of Iowa Republicans supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban marriage for gay couples, with 29% opposing such an amendment.
The issue has bubbled to the surface in Iowa this fall after a Polk County district judge ruled last week that Iowa's law barring same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The ruling is now on hold pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, but one gay couple was married in Des Moines last week.
Sioux City Republican Steve Carlson, who posed the question to Thompson, said the new candidate's pledge to rein in judges' ability to set social policy was a passable compromise for some social conservatives.
But Carlson, a member of the Iowa Christian Alliance board, also said most western Iowa Republicans hope to support a candidate who backs an amendment banning gay marriage.
"I think that for one of these candidates to emerge and be a favorite of the Christian conservatives, we're going to have to get more specific with these answers," Carlson said.
In the Register's May poll, 73% of likely GOP caucus-goers said it was "extremely important" that, when choosing a candidate, that their preferred candidate feel the same way they do about gay marriage.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain oppose a federal gay marriage ban. Most of the other candidates, including those campaigning aggressively in Iowa such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, favor the amendment.
Before heading on a four-hour ride to Mason City, Thompson stopped in Le Mars and greeted the lunchtime regulars at Bob's Drive-In, a burger joint in the Sioux County town.
Greg Mitchell and daughter Amanda Susemihl, both GOP caucusgoers, met Thompson, who sat at their table and chatted for a few minutes as more than a dozen media members hovered nearby.
"I plan to support him," said Mitchell, who was wearing a Thompson sticker on his shirt. "I think he's a strong leader."
Susemihl said she was undecided.
Thompson spent more time with the media today, inviting reporters onto his motor coach for one-on-one and group interviews. The tall Southerner seemed relaxed and charmed the crowd in Sioux City when his 4-year-old daughter Hayden ran onto the stage and grabbed his pant leg.
"That will win him some points," said Carlson, the Sioux City Republican.