A Record 55% of Americans Now Support Same-Sex Marriage

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Some 55 percent of Americans now say they support same-sex marriage, the highest number since Gallup polling on the question began in the 1990s, according to a new Gallup poll.

The finding comes on the heels of federal judges who this week struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Support has been climbing for gay marriages, growing from 40 percent to 53 percent between 2009 and 2011-2012, with the most recent numbers before showing 54 percent support in 2012. In 1996, the first time Gallup completed a same-sex-marriage survey, 68 percent were opposed. Then, in 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage (10 years ago this month), support reached 42 percent.

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, though several states are in the midst of legal battles, appealing judges' rulings overturning bans on same-sex marriage, according to Gallup. [States Where Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal (Infographic)]

In the South, where just 48 percent of Americans said gay marriage should be legal, all states have constitutional bans on such marriages; those bans are being challenged in Arkansas and Kentucky, according to Gallup. States in the West show the highest support (67 percent) for same-sex marriage in the United States.

Beyond state boundaries, some pockets of Americans show more or less support for marriage between two men or two women. For instance, young adults ages 18 to 29 are nearly twice as likely to support gay marriage as those ages 65 and older, the recent Gallup poll found. And whereas 74 percent of Democrats support marriage equality only 30 percent of Republicans say the same. Even so, Republicans have come a ways in this respect, as their support has nearly doubled since 1996.

"For proponents of marriage equality, years of playing offense have finally paid off as this movement has reached a tipping point in recent years — both legally and in the court of public opinion," Gallup officials said in a statement. "Having spent years trying to influence state lawmakers to take action, gay marriage supporters' game strategy has officially pivoted to challenging state bans in court. One key question in the legal battle is the constitutionality of voter-approved state bans."

The new results are based on telephone interviews conducted from May 8 to 11 with 1,028 Americans, ages 18 and older, in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. The results are weighted to be nationally representative and have a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percent.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.