U.S. President Barack Obama has said he supports same-sex marriage.
In an interview on May 9 with the U.S. broadcaster ABC, Obama said he thinks gay couples should be allowed to marry.
Obama said it was his personal view. He said he still supports the rights of states to decide on the issue for themselves.
He said he formed the viewpoint "over the course of several years" after talking with "friends and family and neighbors."
Obama said: "When I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed, monogamous relationships -- same-sex relationships -- who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines [or] sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don’t ask don’t tell' is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage; at a certain point I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
The interview came after voters in North Carolina on May 8 approved an amendment to their state constitution that forbids gay marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.
That amendment solidified and expanded an already enacted state law that forbids same-sex marriage by defining marriage as being only between one man and one woman.
Similar state constitutional amendments have been approved in 30 states. Six states and Washington, D.C., recognize same-sex unions.
Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is the first by a U.S. president.
It is being hailed by gay rights activists as an historic moment.
But his remarks are likely to upset social conservatives who argue that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for president in the November 2012 election, reacted to Obama’s comments by saying that he believes marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman.
Romney said he has held that view "since running for office."
Romney also described the same sex-marriage issue as "a very tender and sensitive topic."
A Gallup poll released earlier this week indicated that half of U.S. citizens think same-sex couples should have the same right to wed as heterosexuals, while 48 percent do not.
Gallup said the results "underscore just how divided the nation is on this issue."
Obama came under pressure to clarify his long-ambiguous view after Vice President Joe Biden said he does not oppose same-sex marriage.
With reports by ABC, AP, AFP, and Reuters