Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) was challenged on gay marriage during his brief stump speech at the Iowa State Fair.
A participant argued Pawlenty's support for traditional marriage goes against the broad Republican theme of getting government out of people's lives.
"From my perspective, I'm not at the point, nor will I ever be at the point, where I will say that every domestic relationship is the same as traditional marriage," Pawlenty replied.
"The relationship between a man and a woman in a traditional marriage is important to our country, our society, our culture," he added. "I think it should remain elevated, not just in our words, but under our laws — that's why I've supported laws, in fact have authored laws, to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman."
The questioner did not back down, and asked Pawlenty why government gets involved in gay marriage at all, and whether he would see a gay American as a "second-class citizen."
"We're just going to have a respectful disagreement, sir," Pawlenty replied.
Pawlenty was speaking at the Des Moines Register soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, a traditional stomping ground for presidential candidates in the early caucus state.
He spent his prepared remarks promising to put in place a simpler, flatter tax that would eliminate several deductions but lower the overall tax rate. He said this would include the elimination of taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains, as well as end the estate tax.
He also said he would work to put in place an "American" energy policy, not a Middle East energy policy, and criticized last year's healthcare law.
Pawlenty did not make an appeal for votes in Saturday's Ames Straw Poll and made no mention of how he might handle a poor showing in the event, although he admitted earlier he would "reassess" his candidacy depending on the results.
The former governor has staked his campaign on doing well in the early caucus state and has spent more time there than any other candidate.