A slim majority of Americans now support gay marriage, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The results underscore the nation's increasingly tolerant views about homosexuals, and parallel a string of recent legal and legislative victories for gay rights advocates.
Five years ago, at 36 percent, support for gay marriage barely topped a third of all Americans. Now, 53 percent say gay marriage should be legal, marking the first time in Post-ABC polling that a majority has said so.
"This is very consistent with a lot of other polling data we've seen and the general momentum we've seen over the past year and a half," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a leading pro-gay-marriage group based in New York. "As people have come to understand this is about loving, committed families dealing, like everyone, with tough times, they understand how unfair it is to treat them differently."
Opponents of same-sex marriage took issue with the poll, which asks respondents: "Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?" Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, argued that the term "illegal" could be inferred to mean that violators could be imprisoned, which most Americans would consider harsh. Brown, whose group is a prominent anti-gay-marriage group, noted that all 31 states that have put same-sex marriage on the ballot voted to ban it.
Post-ABC News polls have used the same "legal or illegal" wording in every poll about same-sex marriage since 2003. Other surveys by the Pew Research Center, the Associated Press and CNN show similar trends.
In the new Post-ABC poll, the shift has been driven by several political and demographic groups whose support for such unions jumped sharply. Men, who previously were less supportive of same-sex marriage than women, now back it at the same rate. Support among college-educated whites, political independents and people who do not consider themselves religious also rose substantially.
Republicans, conservatives and white evangelical Christians remain the groups most opposed to legalizing gay marriage.
The telephone poll was conducted March 10 to 13, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. Results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.