GOP lieutenant governor candidate and running mate of Terry Branstad, Kim Reynolds, during a stop at Davenport Municipal Airport on Thursday June 24. Ryan Stone

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Kim Reynolds said this week she opposes gay marriage but "we could take a look at" civil unions.

That's prompted some social conservatives to raise questions about the party's nominee. However, a spokesman for Terry Branstad said Thursday that Reynolds, a state senator from Osceola, Iowa, does not support state-sanctioned civil unions. He said she was referring to private organizations extending domestic partnership benefits. He said she believes government shouldn't interfere with that.

Reynolds' remarks have the potential to make it more difficult for Branstad to win over the more conservative elements of the party that backed Bob Vander Plaats in the June 8 primary.

Branstad and Reynolds campaigned separately across the state this week, and while in Carroll on Tuesday, a reporter asked Reynolds about what impact gay marriage has had on the state.

She responded that she believes marriage is between a man and woman, then added: "We could take a look at civil unions. There are other options maybe that I would be in favor of looking at."

She stressed, however, that her "bottom line" was that Iowans get a right to vote on how to define marriage.

The comments were reported on the Iowa Independent website.

The state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last year, and since then critics have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn it.

Branstad's campaign declined to make Reynolds available for an interview Thursday, but Tim Albrecht, a spokesman, said her position and Branstad's position on civil unions are the same.

"She does not favor state-sanctioned civil unions. However, if a private entity would like to extend domestic partnership benefits, she does not believe government should get in the way of that," Albrecht said.

Despite the explanation, some social conservatives said Thursday her comments raise legitimate concerns.

"It's consistent with what we've seen out of the Branstad campaign all along," said Bryan English, a spokesman for the Iowa Family Policy Center, whose political action committee endorsed Vander Plaats in the GOP primary. "They've just failed to understand or adequately articulate the gravity of the issues they're talking about."

He said civil unions, which some states have legalized, aren't considered an alternative by either side of the gay marriage debate in Iowa.

Other social conservatives, however, said they aren't worried about what Reynolds said.

Kim Lehman, the former president of Iowa Right to Life, said she spoke to the Branstad campaign about the remarks.

"I don't have any doubts," she said. "She is supportive of one man-one woman marriage ... and that is consistent with the Republican Party platform."

Lehman, who also sits on the Republican National Committee, praised Reynolds' selection when it was announced, and she did so again Thursday. "I'm thankful that Gov. Branstad chose her," she said.

Luana Stoltenberg, a longtime activist from Davenport who backed Vander Plaats, said the comment "puts up red flags," but she added she'd want to know more about what a civil union entailed.

She added she hasn't decided whether she'll vote for Branstad in November, but that the views of his choice for lieutenant governor are important to her.

She noted that Joy Corning, Branstad's lieutenant governor during the 1990s, "was anything but a social conservative."

Corning angered some Republicans with her support for gay marriage in an automated phone call last year, and it became an issue for Branstad during the primary.