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Scott Walker: Constitutional amendment on gay marriage is not a top focus

Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

RED OAK, Iowa. -- Scott Walker still supports amending the U.S. Constitution to allow states to ban gay marriage, but he said on Friday afternoon that making such a change would be difficult and not the best use of a president's influence.

"To me, I think the most appropriate and timely focus for the next president is to focus on defending religious liberties," Walker said during a town hall attended by about 60 people in this small town in southwest Iowa.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in late June allowing gay marriage in all 50 states, Walker deemed the court's action a "grave mistake" that should be reversed by amending the Constitution so that each state can decide if it wants to allow gay marriages or not. Walker's stance frustrated some of his donors and supporters, who worried that while taking such positions could help Walker win primaries in early voting states, it could hurt him during a general election. Walker, who is currently the governor of Wisconsin, also clashed with his two college-aged sons who support gay marriage. He rarely mentions gay marriage on the campaign trail.

In responding to an audience question on Friday, Walker said he has opposed gay marriage for decades, and he disagrees with the Supreme Court because "the decision to define marriage should be left to the states." He said that he would support a constitutional amendment but then listed off what that would take: First, Congress would have to approve it by a super majority. Then it would have to be ratified by three-fourths of states.

"Clearly, though, that is a difficult standard," Walker said. "Not just on this amendment but on any other out there."

Here's Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's take on border security, tax reform and same-sex marriage, in his own words. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Given that, Walker said, it would be better for the next president to instead focus on defending religious liberties. He said that Wisconsin's constitution has long had "very explicit language about protecting religious liberties," along with some "anti-discriminatory language."

"We've shown for many, many, many years that we make it work -- we can defend religious liberties and it has worked out just fine," Walker said. "We need a president and an administration who's going to stand up and defend religious liberties in this country: The freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Walker's comments came during a tour of five counties in western Iowa on Friday as he works toward visiting all 99 counties before the caucuses early next year. It was his second town hall since formally launching his presidential campaign on July 13 -- and Walker said the event counts as training for the first GOP debate next week in Cleveland. Walker has said that he does not plan to attack his opponents and will instead focus on introducing himself to voters.

Red Oak has become a must-stop for GOP presidential hopefuls, as it is home to newly installed U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R), who has quickly become an influential star in the Republican Party. The town of barely 6,000 is about 50 miles southeast of Omaha. Ernst, who is staying neutral, was not at the town hall -- but Walker's biggest applause line came when he complimented her for being able to castrate hogs, ride a hog and cut the pork in Washington.