"A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage," said Senate President Susan Wagle. "However, my members also don't condone discrimination."
In South Dakota, a Republican-led Senate committee narrowly defeated a similar bill that would have barred lawsuits or criminal charges against clergy who refuse to perform same-sex weddings. Critics of the bill said it was unnecessary because the U.S. Constitution already guarantees religious freedom.
One of the sponsors of that measure was Rep. Steve Hickey, pastor of a Sioux Falls church that opposes gay marriage.
"I'm saying keep the state out of my church," Hickey said at a committee hearing. "I only promote and perform traditional marriages. ... It's is not because there is any bigotry. It's because I deeply care about people."
In Indiana, the battle over gay marriage has revealed rifts among Republicans. GOP Gov. Mike Pence urged lawmakers to refer a constitutional ban on gay marriage to the November ballot, but the measure suffered a significant setback last week that could delay a vote until 2016.
Proposed constitutional amendments must be approved twice by the Indiana Legislature — unchanged and in consecutive biennial sessions — before making the ballot. The proposed gay-marriage ban cleared the Republican-led Legislature two years ago but was changed recently to remove a ban on civil unions, thus preventing it from going to the 2014 ballot.
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow with the conservative Family Research Council, expressed disappointment with the Indiana development.
"That was our best hope for a victory at the ballot box this year," he said.
Overall, Sprigg said he remained hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court — if it takes up appeals of any of the recent federal court cases — would not rush to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
Last June, the high court did order the federal government to recognize valid same-sex marriages, which are allowed in 17 states and the District of Columbia. But the court declined to go further and require all states to allow them.
John Eastman, an opponent of same-sex marriage who chairs the National Organization for Marriage, said he and his allies were battling to challenge a growing perception that nationwide gay marriage is inevitable. In particular, he derided Republican political consultants who were advising the party — which officially opposes same-sex marriage — to tone its rhetoric on the issue.
"The consultant class of the GOP has been stupid," Eastman said.
Eastman's organization has praised a bill recently introduced in Congress by conservative Republicans titled the State Marriage Defense Act. It would require the federal government to respect state determinations of the marital status of their residents when applying federal law.
However, the bill is considered to have no chance of passage in the Democratic-led Senate, and its prospects in the GOP-controlled House are uncertain.
"The bill is so tortured by hypocrisy that it falls of its own weight," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. He noted that only a few years ago, many social conservatives sought a federal amendment that would ban gay marriage nationwide, overriding the wishes of the states that had legalized it.
But opponents of same-sex marriage insist on the right to take their cause to the statehouses.
"We support the right of people in the country to disagree on the policy of marriage," said Jim Campbell of the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom. "We as a people, state by state, need to decide what the future of marriage is going to be."
Crary and Zoll reported from New York. Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Chet Brokaw in Pierre, S.D., also contributed to this report.
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