John Edwards, the former US Vice Presidential candidate who is seeking the Democratic party’s nomination for President, said yesterday that he will end “discriminatory” policies towards gay people if elected.

Speaking in New Hampshire, he pledged to try to repeal the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996, that banned the federal government from recognising gay marriages or unions and allowed states to refuse to recognise same-sex unions from other states.

DOMA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the husband of Mr Edwards’ rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton.

“I think we should get rid of DOMA; I think DOMA was a mistake from the beginning, and discriminatory, and so I will do everything in my power as President to do that,” he told reporters, according to the Washington Post.

Mr Edwards also pledged to try to end the policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” also enacted by President Clinton, which bans openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people from serving in the US military.

54-year-old Edwards, who ran for Vice President with John Kerry in 2004, is one of the frontrunners in the Democrat race to win back the White House.

Yesterday the candidate told an audience of several hundred that he approved of New Hampshire’s civil union law.

“The key is to have the federal government recognise civil unions between same-sex couples,” he said.

Mr Edwards is on record as opposing same-sex marriage, while his wife is a much stronger advocate for gay rights.

In July Elizabeth Edwards criticised President Bush for not being tougher on crimes against gays and lesbians during a speech to gay group Human Rights Campaign in San Francisco and announced her support for gay marriage.

“I think we have undue fear about gay marriage,” she said.

“I’ve heard more than one speech about how gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. It’s complete nonsense, in my view.”

Mrs Edwards also said her husband intended to remove more than a thousand laws that discriminate against same-sex couples.