There is a “very clear distinction” between President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the issue of same-sex marriage, Obama’s chief campaign adviser said Monday.

Obama White House advisor Valerie Jarrett (left) and senior campaign strategist David Axelrod watch as President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet supporters upon their arrival in Columbus, Ohio May 5, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

David Axelrod made the comment during a conference call with reporters when asked about Vice President Biden’s endorsement Sunday of same-sex marriage. Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage but noted that Obama ultimately “sets the policy.”

Axelrod told reporters that Biden’s statements “were entirely consistent with the president’s position, which is that couples who are married, whether they’re gay or heterosexual couples, are entitled to the very same rights and very same liberties.”

Referring to the administration’s stance on the Defense of Marriage Act, which the federal government is appealing., Axelrod said: “The president believes that that law is unconstitutional and that if people are married we ought to recognize those marriages and afford them the rights to which they’re entitled.”

The Obama administration announced last year that it would no longer defend the federal law banning the recognition of same-sex marriage because it considers the legislation unconstitutional, an unexpected and rare reversal that was cheered by gay rights groups.

Though Axelrod sounded reluctant to discuss the issue again Monday — after tweeting about it Sunday — he quickly contrasted the Obama administration’s position on gay rights with Romney’s record.

The former Massachusetts governor “has funded efforts to roll back marriage laws in California and other places,” Axelrod said, adding that Romney “believes that we need a constitutional amendment banning the right of gay couples to marry and would take us backward not forward. There’s a very clear distinction in this race.”

Axelrod was referring to a state political action committee run by Romney, Free & Strong America PAC Alabama, that gave $10,000 to a conservative group that has come under scrutiny for plans to “drive a wedge” between African Americans and gays. The PAC, one of a network of state-level PACs that has raised and disbursed money on Romney’s behalf, gave the donation in 2008 to the National Organization for Marriage, which at the time was working to pass Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California, disclosure records show.

Obama has yet to publicly endorse same-sex marriage, earning him the ire of gay rights groups that back his candidacy and have endorsed other gay-friendly policy decisions made by his administration. Though it’s unclear that senior White House officials knew that Biden planned to address gay marriage during his NBC interview, his statements could serve as a feeler on an issue that could come to a head this summer when Democrats plan to craft a party platform at the Democratic National Convention that could endorse same-sex marriages.

If the party endorses the issue, it would find broad support nationally. Fifty-two percent of Americans support legalizing gay marriages, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. Nearly two in three Democrats and more than half of independents support the move; just 39 percent of Republicans support legalizing gay nuptials, the poll said.

Even if Obama himself hasn’t voiced support for gay marriage, yet another member of his Cabinet did Monday. In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he had long supporting legalizing same-sex marriage, but added: “I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked publicly.”

Other Cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, have voiced support for gay marriage.

And on Monday afternoon, Caroline Kennedy, a national Obama campaign co-chair and the niece of the late senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), added her voice to those calling for a gay-marriage plank in the national Democratic Party platform.

“There are few things in life more important than being able to marry and build a family with the person you love.  This fundamental right should be available to all Americans, including gay and lesbian couples,” Kennedy said in a statement released by the group Freedom to Marry, which supports a pro-gay-marriage plank.

Axelrod also discussed the Obama campaign’s $25 million ad buy during the call.

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