Former US president Bill Clinton has discussed how he came to change his views over gay marriage and adoption.

During a CNN interview aired on Friday night, Clinton was asked by interviewer Anderson Cooper to explain recent statements in which he appeared to back equal rights for gays

Cooper asked whether he believed gay people should have full rights to civil marriage nationwide.

Clinton replied: “I do. I think that, well let me get back to the last point, the last word. I believe historically, for two hundred and something years, marriage has been a question left to the states and the religious institutions. I still think that’s where it belongs.

“That is, I was against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide, and I still think that the American people should be able to play this out in debates. But me, Bill Clinton personally, I changed my position. I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it. I have long favoured the right of gay couples to adopt children.”

Cooper then pressed him further, asking whether anything in particular had changed his mind.

Clinton said: “I think, what made me change my mind, I looked up and said look at all of this stuff you’re for. I’ve always believed that – I’ve never supported all the moves of a few years ago to ban gay couples from adoption. Because they’re all these kids out there looking for a home. And the standard on all adoption cases is, what is the best interest of the child?

“And there are plenty of cases where the best interest of the child is to let the gay couple take them and give them a loving home. So I said, you know, I realised that I was over 60 years old, I grew up at a different time, and I was hung up about the word.

“I had all these gay friends, I had all these gay couple friends, and I was hung up about it. And I decided I was wrong.”

Last month, the former president admitted he regretted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the law which bans gays from serving openly in the US armed forces. Clinton was president when the 1993 law was implemented.

He said: “The thing that changed me forever on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was when I learned that 130 gay service people were allowed to serve and risk their lives in the first Gulf War and all their commanders knew they were gay, they let them go and risk their lives ‘cause they needed them, and then as soon as the first Gulf War was over, they kicked them out. That’s all I needed to know, that’s all anybody needs to know, to know that this policy should be changed.”