Neurosurgeon Ben Carson clarified his stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights Wednesday at the Republican presidential debate, saying he supported LGBT Americans but not their marriages. Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist who has been battling mogul Donald Trump for the No. 1 spot in national polls, said that those seemingly contradictory stances don't automatically make someone a homophobe.

Carson was asked why he previously served on the board for the wholesale retail chain Costco, which allows its employees to extend benefits to their domestic partners. "I believe that our Constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation," he said. "I also believe marriage is between one man and one woman. There is no reason you can't be perfectly fair to the gay community. ... We are not each other's enemies."

The comment inspired dozens of tweets about Carson, who was already dominating the Internet during the GOP debate Wednesday. Users posted on social media that they supported Carson, opposed him or were just plain confused as to why he was proving so popular.

Carson was in second place Wednesday according to the Huffington Post Pollster, which averages survey data from several sources. Carson had 21.8 percent support of likely Republican primary voters, about 11 percentage points behind Trump and 13 points ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Carson, considered a Washington outsider like Trump and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, overtook the billionaire this week in a CBS News/New York Times poll. Carson had the backing of 26 percent of voters and was performing especially well among conservative Republicans, women and evangelicals. His lead over Trump -- 4 percentage points -- was within the margin of error, though he's also polling at the front in the early voting state of Iowa.

In response, Trump has criticized Carson for his "low energy" and his "very weak" immigration policies, CNN reported. But Carson told reporters Wednesday he didn't plan to "get into the mud pit" and sling insults back at the tycoon. "Maybe we would be wise to devote our time to to actually answering the questions about the issues and not attacking each other," he said, according to the Hill.

Carson, Trump, Rubio and Fiorina joined former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for the main stage debate Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT. It was held at the Coors Event Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder and was hosted by CNBC.