Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the court’s move “tragic and indefensible” in a statement and vowed to introduce a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban same-sex marriage. (Justin Hayworth/AP)

Conservative religious groups and a handful of Republican lawmakers decried the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow same-sex marriage rulings to stand in five states, saying it will help motivate voters to the polls in protest.

But most Republican leaders in Congress and elsewhere stayed relatively silent, underscoring the extent to which support for gay marriage has expanded in the decade since President George W. Bush (R) supported a constitutional amendment to ban such unions.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a popular tea party conservative and potential 2016 presidential contender, called the court’s move “tragic and indefensible” and vowed to introduce a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban gay marriage.

“This is judicial activism at its worst,” Cruz said in a statement. “The Constitution entrusts state legislatures, elected by the People, to define marriage consistent with the values and mores of their citizens. Unelected judges should not be imposing their policy preferences to subvert the considered judgments of democratically elected legislatures.”

Groups that oppose same-sex marriage, meanwhile, said they are preparing for the political equivalent of hand-to-hand combat.

Same-sex marriage status in the U.S., state-by-state

The court’s decision — which could clear the way for gay marriage in a number of other states — “is likely to act as a motivator of socially conservative voters in the next 29 days” until the midterms, said Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

In Iowa, where there is a closely fought Senate battle, the issue will be featured prominently in 350,000 voter guides that Reed’s group plans to distribute in more than 1,000 churches, as well as in 375,000 pieces of mail it plans to send, he added.

The group hopes to fuel the kind of sentiment that in 2010 saw three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court kicked out of office over their votes making the state the third in the nation to recognize same-sex marriage. This year, the Senate race pits Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat who favors same-sex marriage, against Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst, who has tried to again ban gay marriage in Iowa through a state constitutional amendment.

David Lane, head of the evangelical American Renewal Project, said his organization also plans to take aim at lower-court judges who have overturned anti-gay-marriage statutes and constitutional provisions.

“Impeachment begins in the House. I can’t figure out why a simple congressman won’t drop a bill of impeachment to remove people who are doing this to our country,” Lane said. “We’re going to deal with these problems — unelected and unaccountable judges — who have no right to interfere with the will of a free people.”

In addition to Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that the Supreme Court’s decision was “disappointing” and that justices should affirm that states have the right to restrict marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

The larger currents of public opinion are moving swiftly in favor of same-sex marriage, with well over half the public expressing support. Prominent Democrats — including President Obama and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton — have renounced their previous opposition to it. Many Republican politicians seem to want to avoid the issue entirely.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who supports his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, said he is a “supporter of traditional marriage” and will not be swayed by polls. “I’m not a weather vane like President Obama or Hillary Clinton,” he said during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I happen to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Many conservative activists say they expect the high court to eventually come down directly in favor of same-sex marriage — a possibility they compare to the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in 1973. Roe helped galvanize a relatively small antiabortion movement into a potent political force.

“Not taking these appeals from states that are deeply conservative states is to kick the can down the road,” Reed said. “There would be only one reason to do that.”

In a statement put out by his organization, Reed said: “For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue. If the Supreme Court is planning a Roe v. Wade on marriage, it will sow the wind and reap a political whirlwind.”