Timothy M. Kaine sought to lay out a middle ground position on same-sex marriage Tuesday as the Obama administration continues to face questions on its own stance.

Timothy Kaine and President Obama are both being asked their position on gay marriage. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

“The underlying issue is, should committed couples have the same legal rights and responsibilities, and the answer to that is an unequivocal yes,” Kaine said, noting that he had campaigned against a successful 2006 amendment adding a gay marriage ban to the Virginia Constitution.

“I believe in the legal equality of relationships,” Kaine continued. “The debate about, you know, is it marriage? Is it civil union? Is it domestic partnership? I just kind of let that one go and say should committed couples be treated the same by law, and I think the answer is yes.”

But reporters pressed Kaine on the topic several more times. Asked whether marriage is a civil right, Kaine said, “Relationship equality is a civil right.”

Asked whether gay couples should be given marriage licenses by the state, he said, “There should be a license that would entitle a committed couple to the same rights as a married couple.”

But would that be called a marriage license? “I think the labels get in the way of the issue,” Kaine said.

As a former Democratic National Committee chairman, Kaine was also asked whether he thought support for gay marriage should be added to the party’s official platform this year. He said he thought the party could unite around “relationship equality” but did not directly answer the question.

Questions surrounding gay couples have long followed Kaine. A year ago, he told The Washington Post that he believed gay couples should be able to adopt if a judge determined that it was in the best interests of a child. That marked a shift from when Kaine ran for governor in 2005, when he said he opposed any unmarried couples — gay or heterosexual — being able to adopt children.

Kaine did support repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military. And he noted that public attitudes on the overall topic were shifting, so much so that if the gay marriage amendment were on the Virginia ballot again, the vote would most likely be a lot closer. (It passed 57 to 43 in 2006.)

Kaine wouldn’t say whether his position on gay marriage differed from Obama’s, which the White House has said is “evolving.”

“People like to ding the president on that word but the answer is, it’s exactly what’s happening in society,” Kaine said.