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Obama backs bill overturning Defense of Marriage Act

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama on, Tuesday, July 19, 2011, in the the briefing room of the White House in Washington. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

After New York state passed landmark legislation allowing same-sex marriage for its citizens, President Barack Obama was ambiguous about his beliefs on the subject.

The president never said explicitly that he supports allowing gay marriage nationwide. Instead, he repeatedly said he believed allowing gay marriage was something states should decide for themselves, and added once: "This administration, under my direction, has consistently said we cannot discriminate as a country against people on the basis of sexual orientation."

Now, however, Mr. Obama has given the strongest signal yet that he may actually support same-sex marriage, by throwing his backing behind a new bill that would overturn the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, which defines marriage as something that is only between a man and a woman.

The new bill is called the "Respect for Marriage Act," and will be introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, on Wednesday.

"This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples," The White House said in a statement. "The President has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people -- our families, friends and neighbors."

President Barack Obama had said previously that he views the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, even going so far as ordering the Justice Department to stop defending it in court.