Thompson favors a constitutional amendment that bars judges from legalizing gay marriage, but also leaves open the door for state legislatures to approve the practice. He said social and religious conservatives who would prefer an amendment that also bars legislatures from legalizing gay marriage can live with his view.
"Everyone I have talked to in my meetings like this, the answer has been yes," said Thompson. He conceded there are reservations.
"I think they prefer their own wording. They are primarily concerned about marriage being a union between a man and a woman," said Thompson. He said his solution strikes a balance.
Thompson didn't identify the conservative leaders he has met with.
"What I have done is fashion something that says judges can't do that any more," said Thompson. He said the practical effect of his proposal would be a ban on gay marriages.
"It'll stop the process in its tracks because it's all judge-made," said Thompson. "No state legislature accompanied by a governor's signature has gone down that road."
The former Tennessee senator opened a three-day campaign swing in Iowa, where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the nominating season. He mingled with evangelical conservatives over the weekend, and moved aggressively to ease worries that he doesn't favor a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. His alternative, Thompson said, "is a good, sound, conservative thing."
In making his case, Thompson said he was balancing the competing interests of preserving traditional marriage, while also calling for sharp limits on the role of the federal government. Amending the constitution, he argued, should only be done carefully and to the least extent possible.
"You've got to be awfully, awfully reticent to go in and do more than is absolutely necessary in terms of a constitutional amendment," said Thompson. "They understand that and appreciate that and I think they think I have a good approach. I can say they think they have a better approach."
Thompson said his plan "will work more in our favor than if we totally eliminate the concept of federalism."
He said his argument for a limited federal government helps balance conservatives' worries regarding gay marriage.
"They respect my position on federalism," said Thompson. "Good friends can differ on the details of any approach."
Thompson opened his campaign day mingling with about 200 people jammed into the Mid Town Cafe on the town square in Newton, a traditional stop on the presidential campaign trail for candidates of both parties. He then headed for Marshalltown to make his pitch to about 250 people jammed into a restaurant there.
Meeting with reporters, Thompson was asked about comments from rivalabout the U.S. being a Christian nation unlikely to vote for Muslim candidates. Thompson steered a middle course.
"Factually, the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States is certainly factual," said Thompson. He warned that not all Muslims are radical and warned against stereotypes.
"There are a lot of Islamic individuals and citizens of this country who are not radical, who are good citizens," said Thompson. "I can't say I would vote for or against anybody in any category."