"If that issue becomes a central issue in the debate, it's going to endanger passage absolutely," Rubio said of efforts to revamp immigration laws.
Regarding the sexual orientation language in the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act, Rubio said "I wish we would have just reauthorized the existing law, which has broad and wide support."
Public attitudes toward gay unions have shifted since Obama entered the Oval Office. Fifty-one percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage compared with 41 percent three years ago, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls taken in December 2012 and October 2009.
Same-sex marriage was approved by voters in November in Maryland, Maine and Washington, the first time such unions were endorsed at the ballot box. Since same-sex marriages first were granted legal status by a Massachusetts court ruling in 2004, the unions have been authorized in Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
"With respect to gay rights, we have seen the public come very far in their understanding that gays and lesbians should enjoy the same civil rights as anyone else," Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said in an interview.
Moore is sponsoring a House bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act that includes language to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The military, which until 2011 prohibited gays from serving openly, will extend benefits such as child care, commissary privileges and transportation to military bases to same-sex partners by Aug. 31 and no later than Oct. 1, Panetta said in a memo.
Other benefits provided for spouses, including health care and housing allowances, remain barred because the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of gay marriage, continues to apply to the Defense Department, Panetta said.