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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's campaign sought today to capitalize on his new declaration of support for same-sex marriage to raise money while characterizing Mitt Romney as intolerant on the issue, even as top Republicans tried to shift the political conversation back to the economy.
Obama sent out an email appeal to his supporters labeled "Marriage" that asked for campaign donations following an interview on Wednesday in which he revealed his personal beliefs about the divisive social issue.
''I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them," Obama wrote. "If you agree, you can stand up with me here."
By Thursday, there were signs that Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage had persuaded a number of liberal donors who had previously remained on the sidelines to open their wallets for the president's re-election campaign.
Juan Ahonen-Jover, a former technology executive, and his partner, Ken Ahonen-Jover, a doctor, donated a combined $10,000 to Obama's campaign within minutes of learning that the president had changed course on same-sex marriage, pulling off the road on their way to Key West, Fla., to find an Internet cafe where they could make the contribution.
Obama's campaign also released a new Web video that features Romney declaring his opposition to same-sex marriage and to some legal benefits for gay couples. Titled "Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality," the video accuses Romney of wanting to "deny rights" and notes that "even President Bush supported civil unions."
''I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender," the ad shows Romney saying. "And I don't favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name."
Conservative social activists and groups that oppose same-sex marriage have been vocal in their disdain for Obama's announcement. And advisers to Romney said in television interviews today that he would campaign on the issue of his opposition to same-sex marriage.
''Sure. I think it's an important issue for people and it engenders strong feelings on both sides," Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Romney, said on MSNBC's Daily Rundown. ''I think it's important to be respectful in how we talk about our differences, but the fact is that's a significant difference in November."
But Republican officials on Capitol Hill seemed eager to shift the conversation away from the social issue and back to blaming the nation's economic struggles on Obama's policies.
The House speaker, John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) repeatedly deflected questions about Obama's new position on same-sex marriage at his weekly news conference. He said he believed that marriage should be limited to "one man and one woman" and then quickly flicked back to the economy.
When asked if the subject of same-sex marriage was an important one, Boehner said: "The president can talk about it all he wants. I'm going to stay focused on what the American people want us to focus on, and that's jobs."
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, also made no mention of the marriage issue in his regular Thursday morning speech on the floor of the Senate. Instead, he continued to attack Obama on economic issues.
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday included a ban on same-sex marriages on military installations in a major Pentagon policy bill and also voted to prohibit the Justice Department from spending money to oppose the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Those provisions might not survive Senate negotiations over the legislation, and Boehner also played down the action. "We've got a lot of members who have ideas about what's important to them," Boehner told reporters. "The American people are concerned about our economy."
The low-key response from Republicans is notable in an election year that has led many Republicans on Capitol Hill to leap on every presidential statement as an opportunity for criticism and the drawing of a distinction between their party and Obama's.
Many Republicans have clearly decided that same-sex marriage is a landing spot that is not particularly soft. And a few have decided that their party is on the wrong side of the issue.
Richard Tisei, a gay Republican House candidate challenging Rep. John Tierney for his seat in the 6th congressional district of Massachusetts, said in an interview, "To the extent that I can help make that case within the Republican Party just by being there, it will help to make the difference."
Tisei said he welcomed Obama's statements, even as other Republicans derided them as politically charged.
''It's a good thing for the country," Tisei said, "and conversations are taking place all over the country on a very personal way. Everybody's opinions are evolving on this. I think over time we will all get to the same place."
One notable exception was Michele Bachmann, who put out a lengthy news release Wednesday night that read in part:Â "Marriage between one man and one woman is the foundation of our society. For more than 200 years, traditional marriage has been a cornerstone of the United States of America. I will do everything in my power to support and preserve traditional marriage and to protect American families."
Some Republicans sought to portray Obama's decision as overtly political. Karl Rove, a former top political adviser to George W. Bush, accused Obama of wanting to "milk this" issue for his political benefit.
''They didn't want to do it now, they wanted to do it for maximum potential benefit later on," Rove said during a panel discussion at a hedge fund conference today in Las Vegas.
Robert Gibbs, a former White House spokesman for Obama, also spoke on the panel. He disputed Rove's characterization.
''This was not done for some sort of political reason," Gibbs said. "This was done as a deeply personal decision that the president had been thinking about."
Some of Obama's donors, however, appeared pleased that the president decided to complete his evolution on the issue.
Until now, Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover had repeatedly turned down requests to give to Obama because, Juan Ahonen-Jover said, they were deeply offended by his opposition to same-sex marriage. "The president, a former constitutional law professor, was saying that separate is equal," he said. "That was unacceptable to us."
Juan Ahonen-Jover said that he and his partner knew of another gay couple who had contributed the same amount when they learned the news on Wednesday.
''It was a moral leadership issue," he said.