Same-sex couples gather at microphones at the D.C. Superior Court after applying for marriage licenses on the first day of their availability in D.C. March 3, 2010 (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Hunter, who is vying for the seat left vacant by former council member Harry Thomas Jr.’s resignation, has been on a week long media tour trying to clarify his views on the issue.

In 2010, when he challenged Thomas in the Democratic primary, Hunter enraged same-sex marriage advocates when he accepted the support of the conservative National Organization for Marriage. But Hunter, 28, now rejects the group and says he “respects” the city’s same-sex marriage law.

“I respect the law and I do not seek to overturn the law,” Hunter said in an interview.

Earlier in the week, Hunter gave an exclusive interview to the Washington Blade to explain his position, arguing he was unfairly labeled as a same-sex marriage critic in 2010 because he supported the issue being put before voters.

“The stuff in the media and blogs was not an accurate portrayal...I have been screaming this as loud as I can, ‘hey my position has not been fairly represented’,” Hunter said. “I went to the Blade because I wanted to speak to the LGBT community.”

The fact that Hunter felt a need to preemptively address the issue underscores what political strategists say is the rapid pace at which District residents have come to accept same-sex marriage.

Home to a big chunk of the city’s black middle class, Ward 5 remains one of the most culturally moderate areas of the city. But Hunter said he and most Northeast residents are interested in “enhancing quality of life” instead of engaging in divisive social battles.

In the coming weeks, Hunter said he will continue his efforts to reach out to gay voters by highlighting his support for “transgender health needs,” hate crimes legislation and the D.C. police department’s Gay and Lesbian Unit.

In a race that could feature as many as a dozen candidates, Hunter could be an early front-runner in the May special election. In his 2010 race, Hunter finished second to Thomas with 19 percent of the vote.

One of Hunter’s likely opponents, Kenyan McDuffie, issued a statement Thursday on his Web site noting he’s been a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage.

“Undeniably, Mr. Hunter’s position on gay marriage today runs counter to the views he espoused on the campaign trail merely 15 months ago,” said McDuffie, who was also an unsuccessful candidate in 2010. “This is a classic case of a candidate analyzing voter returns and making a calculated decision to appeal to a constituency that he previously had written off.”