In a strained exchange between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her opponent Senator Joe Biden during Thursday's first and only vice presidential debate, Palin said she is “tolerant” of gays and lesbians.

When debate moderator and PBS anchor Gwen Ifill asked the candidates if they supported granting benefits to same sex couples, Biden answered that he believed gay couples deserve equal rights under the law.

“Absolutely, positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same sex and a heterosexual couple. The fact of the matter is that under the constitution we should be granted – same sex couples should be able to have visitation right in the hospital, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, etc. That's only fair; it's what the constitution calls for. And so we do support, we do support, making sure that committed couples in a same sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their right to visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights to ownership, as heterosexual couples do,” Biden answered.

Ifill then turned to Palin and asked if she supports granting benefits to same sex couples.

“Well not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman, and unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead,” Palin responded.

Palin, however, quickly pulled back on her answer a bit and clarified herself as being “tolerant” of gays and lesbians.

“I want to clarify, if there is any suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves. You know, I am tolerant, and I have a very diverse family and group of friends. And even within that group you would see some who would not agree with me on this issue. Some very dear friends who do not agree with me on this issue. But in that tolerance also ... no one would ever propose – not in a McCain-Palin administration - to do anything to prohibit say visitation in a hospital, or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.”

“But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman,” Palin said.

Ifill then asked Biden if he supported gay marriage, who answered he does not.

Gay groups have been upset with Palin since Wednesday, when she told Katie Couric in a CBS interview that being gay was a “choice.”

“I have one of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years happens to be gay, and I love her dearly,” Palin told Couric. “And she is not my 'gay friend', she is one of my best friends, who happens to have made a choice that isn't a choice that I have made. But I am not going to judge people.”

“While it is encouraging that Palin has a gay friend, we are still disturbed that a person on the cusp of enormous power could hold such backward and unscientific views,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to ending the ex-gay movement. “We hope Palin will choose to educate herself so she will learn that being gay is not a casual choice.”