Most of the candidates in the race for New York's new 21st Congressional District were critical of President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday that he now supports gay marriage.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, the Democratic incumbent from Plattsburgh, said he still prefers civil unions and equal rights. He said in an emailed statement that gay marriage is a matter for individual states to decide on - not the federal government.
"This is an issue that was laid to rest last year for millions for New Yorkers when Republicans and Democrats in Albany voted for marriage equality," Owens said.
Owens faces challengers from the right and the left. Republicans Matt Doheny and Kellie Greene will square off in a June 26 primary, and the race also features a Green Party candidate, Donald Hassig of Colton.
Owens is a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and let the federal government provide benefits for same-sex couples. The bill would not force states to recognize same-sex marriages.
Doheny, a businessman from Watertown, said he was "surprised and dismayed" by Obama's announcement. He said in an emailed statement he firmly believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
"And up until now, the president agreed with me," Doheny said. "This 'evolution' smacks of political opportunism, especially in light of Vice President (Joe) Biden's comments and the clear statement made by North Carolina voters banning same-sex marriage last night."
Early evidence shows that politically, Obama's evolved stance on gay marriage is paying off. The Associated Press reported today that more than $1 million in campaign donations flowed in following his announcement Wednesday. The AP also reported that his speech occurred one day before a pricey Hollywood fundraiser that is expected to raise nearly $15 million.
Obama's campaign also released an advertisement this morning that contrasts his stance on gay marriage with that of Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney, according to the AP.
Doheny said unlike Owens, he believes the Defense of Marriage Act should continue to be the "law of the land.
"Our current congressman - and now, our president - are wrong to support a repeal," Doheny said.
Greene, a conservative Republican from Sackets Harbor, said in a phone interview that she stands for "traditional marriage.
"For me, marriage is a biblical institution, and it's an institution of the church," she said. "So when we use the term marriage, I view that as between a man and a woman."
Greene also said the federal government shouldn't regulate marriage.
"I really don't think the federal government should be involved," she said. "And frankly, I would argue that states shouldn't be, either. I don't see this as a government issue because marriage is an institution of the church."
Like Doheny, Greene said the timing of Obama's announcement is suspect.
"From my perspective, this looks like another political agenda item that Mr. Obama likes to pull for a guy who looks a little bit desperate," she said.
Greene said gay marriage and other social issues shouldn't be the focus of the upcoming elections.
"Our focus needs to be on the economy and putting people back to work," she said.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and Hassig did not respond to a request for comment on this story.