Sen. Timothy M. Kaine noted Tuesday that “labels are important” when it comes to the debate over same-sex marriage, and that’s particularly true when it comes to describing his position on the issue.

Kaine (D-Va.) has long been a supporter of granting gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as married couples, but had not been willing to embrace the term “marriage” when referring to same-sex relationships. That appears to have changed.

“I think any couple should get the same legal rights that my wife and I get,” Kaine said Tuesday at an event at American Legion headquarters in Richmond. “I think that’s the issue that’s before the Supreme Court, is whether people should be treated equally legally, and I think they should. I’m very comfortable with marriage. Some would describe that relationship and use a different label. Labels are important, but the key is . . . it’s got to come with all the same rights.”

The fact that Kaine said he was “comfortable with marriage” is notable, because last spring, after Vice President Joe Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of gay marriage, Kaine was unwilling to go quite that far.

“I believe in the legal equality of relationships,” Kaine — then amid a heated Senate race — said at a May 2012 event with reporters when asked about Biden’s comment. “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 when reporters asked whether marriage was a civil right, Kaine responded that “relationship equality is a civil right.” And when asked whether gay couples should be able to get something called a “marriage license” from state governments, Kaine said he believed “the labels get in the way of the issue.”

Asked Tuesday about Kaine’s overall position, an aide to the freshman senator said: “Senator Kaine supports same-sex marriage. When recently asked to weigh in on the Supreme Court cases, he made clear that he hoped the court affirmed the right of all couples to get married and enjoy the same right and responsibilities as he and Anne.”

Kaine is one of more than 200 members of Congress who signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act should be overturned. As governor in 2006, he campaigned against an amendment to the Virginia constitution banning gay marriage, though he also said at the time he personally believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The 2006 amendment passed, 57 percent to 43 percent, but a Washington Post poll of Virginia last year showed support for gay marriage outweighing opposition, 49 percent to 40 percent.

Like Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also signed on to the amicus brief calling for DOMA to be overturned.

“I support marriage equality because it is the fair and right thing to do,” Warner said in a statement on his Facebook page last week. “Like many Virginians and Americans, my views on gay marriage have evolved, and this is the inevitable extension of my efforts to promote equality and opportunity for everyone. “

Errin Whack contributed to this report.