Romney only touches on gay marriage in graduation speech at evangelical college

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stayed away from directly criticizing President Obama during a commencement address at evangelical Liberty University but earned applause for pushing back against Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage.

In a speech focused on family and morality, Romney said the debate over gay marriage requires evangelicals to bring their values into the political arena.

“Culture, what you believe, what you value, how you live, matters,” Romney said Saturday. “As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate from time to time. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”

The president on Wednesday endorsed gay marriage, becoming the first U.S. president to voice support for same-sex couples to wed legally.

After years of “evolving” on the issue, Obama said he had concluded “personally” that same-sex couples should be able to get married.

Romney's speech was otherwise relatively light on overt campaign rhetoric, save for an early comment in which Romney appeared to suggest that graduating from Liberty is a bigger accomplishment than anything Obama has done.

“Let’s just say that not everybody has achieved as much in these last four years as you have,” Romney said. “But that’s a theme for another day.”

He also praised the graduates for spending the past four years preparing to enter the workforce, even though “job opportunities are scare in this country.” Romney said the students graduating from Liberty would be served well by their Christian faith.

“Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning,” Romney said.

Romney has had an uneasy relationship with evangelicals, largely because of skepticism over his reputation as a political moderate. During the presidential primary, which is all but over, others in the GOP took shots at Romney for not being a "true conservative."

But as romney name-checked Liberty founder Jerry Falwell and former rival Rick Santorum, he made a clear effort Saturday to cast himself as an ally of evangelical Christians.

“There is no greater force for good in the country than Christian conscience in action,” Romney said.