Colin Powell backs same-sex marriage but makes no presidential campaign endorsement

Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell appears on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, August 28, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
CBS News

(CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he has "no problem" with same-sex marriage on Wednesday.

The former Pentagon Joints Chiefs chair who oversaw the implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the 1990s made the comments to CNN.

"In terms of the legal matter of creating a contract between two people that's called marriage, and allowing them to live together with the protection of law, it seems to me is the way we should be moving in this country. And so I support the president's decision," Powell said.

President Obama publiclybacked same-sex marriage for the fist time in early May.

Powell said he has "a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is and they raise children. And so I don't see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married under the laws of their state or the laws of the country."

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Powell also declined on Tuesday to renew the presidential endorsement he gave Barack Obama four years ago, saying he wasn't ready "to throw my weight behind someone" at this time.

The former chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cabinet member under President George W. Bush demurred when asked if he was backing Obama again. A longtime GOP figure, Powell caused a stir in Republican political circles four years ago by endorsing Obama over war hero Sen. John McCain, calling Obama a "transformational figure."

Not so this time, Powell said on NBC's "Today" show. At least, not yet.

"It's not just a matter of whether you support Obama or (Mitt) Romney. It's who they have coming in with them," he said.

Pressed to say why he was holding back on giving Obama his blessing a second time, Powell said: "I always keep my powder dry, as they say in the military."

He said Obama had "stabilized the financial system" following the deep recession of 2008-2009 and had "fixed the auto industry." Powell also said he thought the country was on the right path toward ending the war in Afghanistan.

But he also said he thought Obama needed to work more on the economy and said he thought that he owed it to the Republican Party to listen to the proposals that likely nominee Romney will be offering, particularly on the economy.

Powell said he's "still listening" to Republican ideas, calling Romney "a good man" and saying he wasn't ready to make a commitment to Obama.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama appreciated Powell's endorsement four years ago.

"It's up to him and every American to decide whom they will support going forward," he said. Carney said Obama has worked to fulfill the commitments he made on national security and domestic policy issues, two areas important to Powell.

Powell has been an enigmatic figure in the Republican Party, and his name often has been mentioned in both presidential and vice presidential speculation. He was the first black head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Last year, Powell told graduates of South Carolina's premier historically black university that, among other things, he had been particularly heartened by a recent event.

"That was when President Obama took out his birth certificate and blew away Donald Trump and all the birthers," he told students at South Carolina State University. That was a reference to those who doubt Obama was born in the U.S.

Powell also supported Obama in getting the U.S. Senate to ratify the New START treaty with Russia, trimming the nuclear stockpiles held by both countries.