Same-sex marriage front-and-center in presidential race

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The issue of same-sex marriage is pushing the presidential race in a new direction.

A just-released CBS News/New York Times poll shows 38 percent of Americans say they now believe same-sex couples should be allowed to get married. Twenty-four percent think they shold form civil unions. Thirty-three percent are against any legal recognition at all.

The number in favor of same-sex marriage is 10 percent higher than it was in 2004.

Poll: Most Americans support same-sex marriages or same-sex unions

Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney took up the issue over the weekend.

He's said all along that the economy is the number one issue in this election, but during Saturday's commencement speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., the largest evangelical university in the country, Romney seemed to be seeking some common ground with social conservatives by talking about his faith and his values.

Speaking to a crowd that's been somewhat skeptical of his Mormon faith, Romney took on a key issue for social conservatives, drawing applause when he said, "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman."

That's been his position and, in the speech to Liberty graduates, Romney also stressed his religious values.

Poll: Most Americans support same-sex unions
Romney strikes spiritual tone at Liberty University
Complete coverage: Election 2012

"Whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action," Romney said.

Former Romney rival and evangelical favorite Rick Santorum urged him to go further, suggesting President Obama just doesn't get it.

"This is a very potent weapon, if you will, for Gov. Romney if he's willing to step up and take advantage of a president who is very much out of touch with the values of America," Santorum said on KARK-TV.

Two news magazines are touting the president's decision, but a Gallup/USA Today poll taken after his announcement showed 60 percent of Americans say it won't affect their vote.

The Obama campaign has found that his decision on same-sex marriage has helped fundraising efforts.

Donations reportedly increased even before George Clooney opened up his Hollywood home last week for an Obama fundraiser that took in almost $15 million.

Other politicans have been weighing in.

During a commencement address at the University of North Carolina Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took issue with the Tar Heel State's recent vote, saying, "I would argue last week's referendum banning same-sex marriage shows just how much more work needs to be done to ensure freedom and equality for all people." He got loud applause.

Speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took a shot at the president's new position.

"Call me cynical, but I wasn't sure his views on marriage could get any gayer." The remark prompted laughter.

To see Jan Crawford's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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