U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage on Wednesday, clarifying his views following unexpected comments on the issue by his Vice President, Joe Biden, in an interview with NBC last weekend.
Biden told NBC's Meet the Press that he was 'personally comfortable' with same-sex marriage.
A poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News in March found that 52 percent of adults now thought it should be legal for gay couples to marry.
The President was interviewed by ABC News reporter Robin Roberts, saying that 'for me personally it is important to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.'
However, as marriage licences are granted by individual states, not the Federal government, it can only be read as a stance on moral principle than a signal of a change in Federal law. (It is likely that Republican representatives would block any attempt to repeal DOMA in Washington.)
In fact, the state of North Carolina, which had already previously voted not to allow same-sex marriage went further by passing a law to change the State's constitution to strengthen the ban, following the example of other States in the region.
Opponents of same-sex marriage averred the measure was necessary to prevent courts or future legislatures from invalidating the law, while civil rights groups criticised it as a 'step backward' as it would bar even the milder form of civil unions and could have unintended consequences for straight couples. Former President Bill Clinton had expressed his opposition to the measure, while the Rev. Billy Graham and Republican primary hopeful Newt Gingrich spoke out in favour.
'At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage,' ran Graham's statement. 'The Bible is clear -- God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment.'
The front runner for the Republican presidential candidacy, Mitt Romney, was cautious when asked to respond to Obama's statement. Romney noted that this was a 'tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues' but affirmed that his view remains that 'marriage itself is a relationship bewtween a man and a woman'. Romney had opposed changes to the marriage law when he was Governor of Massachusetts.
The chairman of the Republican National Committe Reince Priebus accused Obama of 'playing politics' on the issue. 'We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that', he stated.
Meanwhile, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the President's statement as 'a major turning point in the history of American civil rights'.