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Poll: Most Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll adds to the pool of evidence that despite assertions from legislators stating that the vast majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, it is actually beginning to enjoy wide mainstream acceptance for the first time in American history.

The 2010 edition of the General Social Survey (GSS) found that 46 percent of respondents said they were in favor of same-sex marriage, with 40 percent opposed. The new poll actually has a majority of respondents voicing support of same-sex marriage. A full 53 percent of Americans surveyed by the Washington Post and ABC News said that they believed gay marriage should be legal. Forty-four percent thought it should be illegal.

The Post reports that opponents to same-sex marriage have objected to the wording of the poll questions, which included, “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?” They believe that the use of the term “illegal” implies criminalization. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, tells Washington Post reporters:

“The only poll that counts is a free and fair vote on the part of the people,” he said. “We’ve seen these biased polls time and time again — right before votes in which same-sex marriage is rejected. It’s absurd. The people of this country have not changed their opinion about marriage.”

However, no states have opened marriage definition to a ballot initiative since 2009, when polls still suggested a countrywide opposition to same-sex marriage. Moreover, as recently as 2004, the same Washington Post-ABC News poll, with the same wording, had just 32 percent of respondents in support of same-sex marriage. Other polls, including surveys conducted by the GSS, the Pew Research Center, the AP (PDF) and CNN (PDF), have likewise shown a similar rapid growth of support for gay marriage in recent years.

The Post-ABC poll also reports that the gap in intensity of conviction among those who oppose same-sex marriage versus those who support it has started to close. Just last year, 42 percent of those polled said they felt “strongly” that same-sex marriage should be illegal, and 31 percent said they felt “strongly” that it should be legal. The number of Americans who feel strongly that it should be illegal has shrunk to 35 percent, while the number who are strongly in support of legalizing same-sex marriage has grown to 36 percent.

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