President Barack Obama says the decision to legalize gay marriage in New York was a "good thing" because people debated their views and came to a decision.
But he stopped short of endorsing gay nuptials himself.
The president said at a press conference Wednesday that other states and communities will come to their own conclusions.
New York last week became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. The law goes into effect in late July.
Obama praised the New York decision, saying that "what you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues. It was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that's exactly how things should work."
The president also uttered forceful words in support of gay equality, but without advancing his own position — which he's described as "evolving" — in support of civil unions but not gay marriage.
"I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one. All right? And that won't be today," Obama said when pressed on his views.
Obama defended his record on gay rights, pointing to decisions including repealing a ban on gays serving openly in the military and instructing the Justice Department to stop defending in court a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He said he's already done more than the previous 43 presidents combined.
"I think what you're seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they've got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out," Obama said.
"It's not going to be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the president, I've discovered since I've been in this office, can't dictate precisely how this process moves," Obama added. "But I think we're moving in a direction of greater equality, and I think that's a good thing."
Obama's views on gay marriage have been in the spotlight in recent days, ever since by coincidence he spoke at a gay-focused fundraiser in New York City last week just as the state's Legislature there was on the verge of its vote legalizing gay marriage. His stance was to be put on display again later Wednesday at a reception at the White House recognizing Gay Pride month.
Polls show the public evenly split or narrowly in favor of gay marriage, and for activists the president's evolution isn't happening fast enough.
"The president showed again that his heart is in the right place. Good words and lots of them. Maybe now even his evolution is closer to complete," said Richard Socarides, head of advocacy group Equality Matters and an adviser to President Bill Clinton when he was in the White House. "But he's still trying to have it both ways on the central issue. It won't work for him for much longer. The political environment is changing too fast."