WASHINGTON - In a bombshell that rocked the political scene in the United States, President Barack Obama has reiterated support for same-sex marriage, sparking anger from Christian groups and Republican rivals.
"It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts.
The Democrat president said that he and his wife Michelle had squared his decision with their faith.
"We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others," he said.
"But it's also the Golden Rule, you know -- treat others the way you would want to be treated."
Obama, who ended the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the US military, is the first US president to publicly endorse same-sex marriage.
He argued that his support for gay marriage evolved after talking with his two daughters, who had friends who had same-sex parents.
"It wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective," Obama said.
Obama's position came days after his vice-president Joe Biden said that he was absolutely comfortable with same-sex marriages.
His remarks also came after Colorado rejected a bill to allow same-sex marriages in the state.
In the US, 31 states have passed constitutional amendments or legislation against same-sex marriage.
"This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights" said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent whose city is in one of six states that allow same-sex marriage.
But Obama's support drew fire from his Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney as well as Christian groups.
"I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was governor and that I have expressed many times. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, Romney said during a campaign stop in Colorado.
"States are able to make decisions with regards to domestic partnership benefits, such as hospital visitation rights, benefits and so forth of various kinds could be determined state by state, but my view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman and that's my own preference.
"I know other people have differing views. This is a very tender and sensitive topic as are many social issues, but I have the same view that I've had since, well, since running for office."
Christian leaders were also critical of Obama's shift on gay marriage.
"This could definitely get them riled up ... hopefully," said Caryl Scales, a member of Hampton Road Baptist Church in DeSoto, Texas, Reuters reported.
"I'm not happy with it. I believe scripture. God's word says gay marriage is wrong."
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said that more than 39 percent of Americans believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally.
Another 23.5 percent said that such couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry, while nearly 27 percent opposed marriage or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Obama's remarks "deeply saddening.
"We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society," Dolan said in a statement.
"The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better."
The Family Research Council, which says it champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, called Obama's position "disappointing but not surprising."
"Today's announcement almost ensures that marriage will again be a major issue in the presidential election," council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.
"Romney ... may have been handed the key to social conservative support by President Obama," Perkins said.
Pentecostal Pastor Charles Bargaineer of the largely black New Fellowship Church of God in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, Florida, said he may reconsider his support for Obama.
"I don't think that's appropriate for the president," Bargaineer said.
"The Bible's strictly against that."
Same-sex relationship and marriage are totally prohibited in Islam, Christianity and all divine religions.
Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts, nor in any way indulge in their propagation.The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is not a sin, but considers homosexual intercourse as sinful.