The Republican and Democratic candidates for Vice President of the United States have spoken of their opposition to same-sex marriage.

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden made their views known during a televised debate last night.

Ms Palin, the Governor of Alaska, did better than expected.

Since she was nominated at the Republican party convention last month she has been criticised as inexperienced after a string of disappointing TV appearances.

During the debate Mr Biden, who is Barack Obama’s running mate, tied Republican Presidential candidate John McCain’s policies on Iraq, Afghanistan and the current economic turbulence to George Bush’s record.

Ms Palin tried to portray herself as a straight-talking Washington outsider. Mr Biden has been a US Senator for more than 30 years.

The candidates struck a rare note of unanimity over gay marriage. At present gay and lesbian people can get married in Massachusetts and California.

“In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple,” said Senator Biden.

“Neither Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage.”

Ms Palin said she also opposed same-sex marriage.

“No one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed,” she added.

At 44, Ms Palin is three years younger than Barack Obama and 28 years younger than Senator McCain.

She was elected Governor of Alaska less than two years ago. Her husband Todd is a Yup’ik Alaskan native.

The eldest of her five children, 18-year-old Track, began his military service in Iraq last month.

Her image as a hunting, shooting, snowmobile-riding outdoors woman helped boost her popularity in Alaska.

While she claims to have gay friends and is receptive to arguments about discrimination, she said she would support a statewide ballot question in Alaska that would deny benefits to homosexual couples.

“I believe that honouring the family structure is that important,” she told the Anchorage Daily News in 2006.

However, she later reluctantly agreed to follow the state Supreme Court ruling that same sex partners should receive equal benefits to heterosexual couples.

Asked about her views on homosexuality during a TV interview earlier this week, Ms Palin stated that homosexuality is a “choice.”

“I am not going to judge Americans and the decisions that they make in their adult personal relationships,” she claimed.

Ms Palin said one of her “absolute best friends” is a lesbian.

“She is not my gay friend, she is one of my best friends who happens to have made a choice that isn’t a choice that I have made, but I’m not going to judge people,” she said.