LYNCHBURG, Va., - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought on Saturday to calm fears that his Mormon faith would be an obstacle to evangelical Christian voters, stressing shared conservative values while acknowledging religious differences.
In a speech at conservative Christian Liberty University - where it is taught that Mormonism is a cult - Romney stressed their common goal of service to God and declared his opposition to gay marriage, a position essential for winning the majority of evangelicals in November.
"People of different faiths like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology," the presumptive Republican nominee said in a commencement speech, addressing his Mormon faith.
"Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview," said Romney to warm applause. Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, view themselves as Christians.
Romney went right at the latest hot-button issue, bringing much of the audience to its feet in cheers by declaring: "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman."
Many students and parents said that while they are wary of Romney's religion, they would rather he occupy the White House than US President Barack Obama who announced his support for same-sex marriage this week.
When Romney was announced as speaker, a shout from the crowd of "Beat Obama!" rang out.
The address was a test for Romney of support among evangelicals, particularly in a swing state like Virginia, and came after a difficult week in which he was accused of being a bully at high school in the 1960s.
The announcement last month that Romney would speak at Liberty, founded by the late preacher Jerry Falwell, caused an uproar.