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Obama says gay marriage 'right thing to do' (+video)

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Obama also called for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. His administration has refused to defend the law in court challenges, and while Obama has voiced support for its repeal before, he specifically listed repeal as a goal.

Romney has said he believes that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Although Obama did not mention Romney's stance, he cast his challenger as a "rubber stamp" for congressional Republicans and cited his 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, as a far more independent Republican who believed in climate change and in the need for overhauling the immigration system.

"What we've got this time out is a candidate who's said he would basically rubber stamp the Republican Congress and who wants us to go backwards and not forward," Obama said.

Earlier in the day, during his address at Barnard, Obama urged the graduates to fight for their place at "the head of the table" and help lead a country still battered by economic woes toward brighter days. "I believe that the women of this generation will help lead the way," he said.

The president's choice of Barnard as his first commencement address of the spring underscored the intense focus both candidates have placed on women. An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month showed Obama with a sizable advantage over Romney with women voters, 54 percent to 39 percent.

Obama acknowledged that today's college graduates are entering a shaky job market. To those who say overcoming the nation's challenges isn't possible, Obama said, "Don't believe it." He told the graduates that if they ever despair, they should think of the country's history and what young generations before them have achieved.

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