Barack Obama, the president of the United States, has announced in an interview with ABC News that he thinks gay couples should have the same legal right to marry as heterosexual couples.

In an interview with Robin Roberts, he said that his views have ‘evolved’ over the past few years, based on conversations with staff members, gay and lesbian service members, and people in his own family.

According to ABC News, Mr Obama said: “I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

He added that this was a personal opinion, but he would still leave the decision to individual states. “It’s interesting, some of this is also generational,” he said. “You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it.

“You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

Mr Obama had faced mounting pressure to state his own position on the issue, which he had previously described as ‘evolving,’ as both his vice president, Joe Biden, and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, came out in support of equal marriage over the weekend.

Previously, Mr Obama had cited his Christian faith to oppose gender-neutral marriage, though until today, he has supported civil unions. This represents a marked shift in his opinions, coming especially just a day after the North Carolina referendum which outlawed all same-sex unions. He had also faced criticism from gay rights activists over his refusal to sign an executive order that would ban discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal employment.

Mr Romney, his opponent, used his campaign today to emphasise his opposition to marriage equality.