A national poll released last week by the Washington Post and ABC News has concluded that two-thirds of all Americans now say gay and lesbian couples should be able to have the same rights as heterosexual couples through civil unions.
Though closely divided, the new data indicates that 47 percent of Americans say gay marriages should be legal, with 31 percent saying they feel that way "strongly."
Intensity is stronger among opponents, however: overall, half say such marriages should be illegal, including 42 percent who say so strongly.
Civil unions draw broader support. Two-thirds now say they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions that would give them many of the same legal rights as married couples. That's an increase of 12 percentage points since a December 2007 poll that asked about civil unions for "homosexual couples."
In the new poll, support for civil unions is at 50 percent or better across party and ideological lines. Support for such arrangements is now 15 points higher than it was a few years ago among conservatives; it's up 13 points among Republicans.
Views on gay marriage are little changed since Post-ABC polling last touched on the topic, in April 2009. Then, 49 percent said they thought it should be legal, 46 percent illegal. In that poll, a wording experiment found little difference between support for legal marriages of "gay and lesbian couples and for those among "homosexual couples."
In the new poll, a sharp age divide remains on the question, with younger adults broadly supportive of gay marriage while most seniors oppose it. A majority of those under age 30 say they feel strongly that gay marriages should be legal, marking the first time in Post-ABC polling that figure has topped 50 percent.
Democrats and independents are far more apt to favor legal marriages than are Republicans. And support is highest in the Northeast - where most of the states that allow legal marriage are located - and the West. Those in the Midwest and South are more apt to oppose making gay marriages legal. No word yet from Sarah Palin.