U.S. education secretary adds support to gay marriage

WASHINGTON Mon May 7, 2012 11:15pm IST

U.S. President Barack Obama talks about providing states flexibility under reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (L) applauds in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

U.S. President Barack Obama talks about providing states flexibility under reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (L) applauds in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on Monday that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, following a similar comment from Vice President Joe Biden the day before.

The views of Duncan and Biden contrast with that of President Barack Obama, who has said he is "evolving" on the issue of gay marriage.

Duncan was asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program if he believes same-sex couples should legally be allowed to wed.

"Yes, I do," he said. Asked if he had ever stated his position before, Duncan said, "I don't think I've ever been asked publicly."

Gay marriage looms as an issue in Obama's re-election campaign against Republican Mitt Romney leading up to November's vote. An endorsement of gay marriage could help energize Democratic supporters but also could alienate more conservative independent voters, one reason why Obama has been reticent on the topic.

Duncan's remarks came a day after Biden made headlines in an NBC interview by saying he was "absolutely comfortable" with allowing same-sex couples to marry.

After the interview, a Biden representative said the vice president "was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue, after meeting so many committed couples and families in this country."

Senior Obama campaign aide David Axelrod wrote on Twitter that Biden was saying that "all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights," which he said was Obama's position.

The support from Biden and Duncan comes ahead of a statewide referendum in North Carolina on Tuesday on whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Obama had pushed last year's repeal of a policy banning gays from serving openly in the armed forces. The law, commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," had allowed gay men and women to serve in the military only if they kept their sexual orientation a secret.

(Reporting By Lily Kuo; Editing by Bill Trott)

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