Updated 4:17 p.m. ET, 12/5/2013
Washington (CNN) – House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday he believes the GOP should support the party's openly gay candidates.
"I do," he said when asked by CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash if he backs such House hopefuls.
His answer comes as a GOP congressman from Virginia is pressuring a national Republican campaign group to withhold financial support for the party's gay candidates.
Rep. Randy Forbes has been trying to persuade the National Republican Congressional Committee not to back gay Republican House candidates. The story was first reported by Politico, and confirmed by CNN.
The NRCC is tasked with recruiting and helping to elect candidates, as well as incumbents, to the House every two years. For part of its financial substance, it collects millions of dollars in membership dues from incumbent lawmakers.
In next year's midterm elections, there are two openly gay GOP candidates who are well positioned to challenge Democratic incumbents. Richard Tisei, a former state lawmaker who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012, is running again for a Massachusetts seat.
In San Diego, former city councilman Carl DeMaio is challenging Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. DeMaio ran for San Diego mayor last year, but lost to the now-disgraced Democrat Bob Filner, who resigned after facing a barrage of sexual harassment claims.
Both candidates would have to face primaries before being guaranteed a spot on the November general election ballot. But if they do win their respective primaries, they've been widely praised as potential pick-ups for the GOP in the House. Rep. Patrick McHenry, who serves as the NRCC's top recruiter, has touted both as top-tier candidates.
The NRCC backed Tisei last year with $1.6 million, so they have a history of supporting openly gay candidates.
"Our decisions on the Republican nominees we support will not be based on race, gender or sexual orientation but will be based on the strength of their candidacy and their ability to defeat Democrats," said Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the chairman of the NRCC.
Forbes did not question the NRCC's support of Tisei in the last cycle. There's been speculation that Forbes is just now bringing the issue up because he's aiming for the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee–and that he also hasn't paid his NRCC dues yet.
Those members who chair committees, or are seeking to gain top posts on committees, are expected to contribute to the party's effort to re-elect Republicans and expand the number of GOP members in the House.
In a statement to CNN, Forbes said "the definition of marriage is an issue with widely divergent opinions passionately held by both sides."
"This is true of the Republican Party, as it is of society as a whole," he continued. "Our goal is to make certain every individual has the right to express his or her belief, while no one is compelled to support financially or otherwise, those who disagree with them. It is my belief that we are trying to strike this balance and we will continue to work to accomplish this goal."
Forbes has raised more than $136,000 for the NRCC this year and "will continue to offer his support" to expand the GOP's majority in the House, according to his spokesman.
The recent dust-up comes as more Republican lawmakers have toned down their opposition to–or have expressed outright support for–gay rights issues and same-sex marriage in the last couple of years.
Asked about Forbes opposition to NRCC money for gay candidates, McHenry–the GOP group's top recruiter–disagreed with his colleague.
"If you are a top notch candidate you deserve the support of our party infrastructure and what we need to do is get the best candidates to return Republican seats back to Republican hands," he said Thursday. "My agenda is to field Republican candidates who can beat Democrats, who can be good members of Congress and help solve the nation's problems."
While Boehner's comments made headlines Thursday, some were skeptical of his answer.
“Talk is cheap – it does little good to support gay candidates if you’re willing to fire gay Americans,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, an openly gay Democratic Congressman from New York.
“If he really does believe in equality, Speaker Boehner should stop blocking the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act and bring it to the House floor for a vote," he continued. "So we can say once and for all that Americans should only be judged by the work that they do, not who they are or who they love.”