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President Barack Obama has called for the repeal of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The legislation, passed under President Bill Clinton in 1996, also provides that no state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
DOMA can only be repealed by Congress.
President Obama said that the US Government needed to “give committed gay couples the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act”.
He also said that laws were needed to give same-sex couples the right to adopt children, and to ensure that US Government employees receive equal benefits.
President Obama made his call as part of a Presidential Proclaimation declaring June 2010 to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.
President Obama has in the past expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage. In an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune he said, that his religious beliefs “say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman."
However, as a state senator in Illinois, he did vote against a Federal Marriage Amendment and opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
He said he would support civil unions between gay and lesbian couples, as well as letting individual states determine if marriage between gay and lesbian couples should be legalised.
Currently, there are six states, Massachucetts, Vermont, Iowa, Washington D.C., New Hampshire and Connecticut in which same-sex marriage is legal.
However, in any state where the issue has been put to a referendum, same-sex marriage proposals have been defeated, including heavily Democratic and liberal states such as Maine and California.
Currently, such referenda have been held in 31 states.