Vice PresidentÂ Joseph R. Biden Jr.Â said on Sunday that he was â€œabsolutely comfortableâ€ withÂ same-sex marriagesÂ and was heartened by their growing acceptance across the country, a position that moves well beyond the â€œevolvingâ€ views thatÂ President ObamaÂ has said he holds on the issue.
The comments, which aides described as the off-the-cuff opinions of a vice president not known for fidelity to a script, sent the White House scrambling to clarify that Mr. Biden was not articulating an official change in policy, a reaction that highlighted the administrationâ€™s unease over the subject.
In an interview on NBCâ€™s â€œMeet the Press,â€ Mr. Biden invoked some of the same language that advocates of same-sex marriage use, speaking of family, equality and love.
â€œI am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,â€ Mr. Biden said, while noting that the president, not he, sets policy on such matters.
Mr. Bidenâ€™s unexpectedly expansive remarks made him by far the highest-ranking White House official to move closer to a formal embrace of same-sex marriage, which is now legal in six states and the District of Columbia but is unrecognized by the federal government. The Obama administration endorses civil unions but not marriage for gay couples.
The vice presidentâ€™s comments are likely to intensify pressure on Mr. Obama, who says he is still wrestling with his feelings about same-sex marriage, to take a clearer stance on it before the presidential election this fall, something the White House has shown reluctance to do.
Mr. Bidenâ€™s aides, in insisting that he was not deviating from White House policy, pointed to a 2010 statement by the vice president that the country was moving toward a â€œnational consensusâ€ on same-sex marriage. And in Sundayâ€™s interview, Mr. Biden did not say explicitly that the federal government should recognize it.
But gay rights advocates, who spent Sunday morning parsing Mr. Bidenâ€™s words, said the presidentâ€™s running mate had, in their analysis, conveyed new and unmistakable support for their biggest cause.
Mr. Biden called the debate surrounding the issue a simple question of â€œwho do you love?â€ and â€œand will you be loyal to the person you love?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what people are finding out is what, what all marriages, at their root, are about,â€ he said, â€œWhether theyâ€™re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.â€