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Obama on rights of gay couples: 'It is time for the justices to examine this issue.'

Urging the Supreme Court to act on the pair of gay marriage cases it has heard in the past two days, President Barack Obama on Wednesday said that it is “consistent with our Constitution to recognize same-sex couples.”

“I think it is time for the justices to examine this issue,” Obama said in an interview with Telemundo.

NBC's Pete Williams reports on the latest from inside the Supreme Court hearing on the Defense of Marriage Act.

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday and Wednesday about the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in the state, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which grants federal benefits only to married heterosexual couples.

In the Proposition 8 case, some of the justices appeared reluctant to make a sweeping ruling about the constitutionality of gay marriage. But the majority of justices appeared to indicate at the arguments Wednesday that they are prepared to strike down DOMA’s limitation of federal benefits to heterosexual couples.

In the interview, Obama reiterated that the federal government should recognize the unions of couples in states that allow gay marriage.

“I certainly believe that those states that have made a decision to recognize these couples as being married, that the federal government has to respect that decision by the states,” he said. “That's traditionally been how it works. States have defined marriage and the federal government has followed the lead of the states.”

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

George Washington University students and hundreds of others rally outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments in a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.

“I think not only is it right and fair but also consistent with our Constitution to recognize same-sex couples,” added Obama, a former professor of constitutional law. “It doesn't mean everybody has to agree from a religious standpoint about this issue. It does mean that it is very important for us to remember that we're a nation where everybody is supposed to be equal before the law.”

The  administration has long argued that DOMA is unconstitutional on the basis that it discriminates against same-sex couples by depriving them of federal benefits even if they are legally married.

In arguments before the court today, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that, if DOMA is struck down on those grounds, it would be “difficult” to defend any state’s ban on gay marriage.