Poll: Majority now supports same-sex marriage rights

A majority of Americans now say it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry, according to a new poll released Friday.

Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults said that they thought same-sex marriage should be legal, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll. Forty-four percent of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage, and 3 percent had no opinion.

It's the first time in that poll's history that a majority of respondents expressed support for the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry. Support for same-sex marriage reached a low point in 2004, when the ABC/WaPo poll found that 32 percent of registered voters, at that time, supported same-sex marriage.

Since then, support for marriage rights has drifted steadily upward.

President Obama himself has acknowledged that his own views on same-sex marriage are "evolving." Obama has expressed opposition to marriage rights in the past, but appears to have opened the door to supporting them in the future.

The president most recently acted to extend same-sex marriage rights by ordering his Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1990s law allowing states and the federal government to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages in other states, in court. (House Republican leaders recently voted to order the House general counsel to defend DOMA instead.)

Obama also scored victories for gay rights earlier in his administration, passing a repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" through Congress and extending benefits to federal workers in same-sex partnerships.

Still, the issue of same-sex marriage remains politically thorny. Democrats in centrist states and districts are often wary of alienating more socially conservative voters on the issue, and Republicans are often quick to oppose it in order to curry favor with social conservatives in the GOP.

The ABC/WaPo poll, conducted March 10-13, has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

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