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Poll: 51 percent support same-sex marriage

Following an election that saw voters in three states - Maine, Maryland, and Washington - approve measures to legalize same-sex marriage, a new CBS News Poll finds 51 percent of Americans nationwide think same-sex marriage should be legal, while four in 10 do not.

With the addition of these three states, same-sex marriage will become legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia. Also, Minnesota voters rejected an amendment to their state's constitution that would have defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. As the debate over same-sex marriage continues at the ballot box and in state legislatures, the Supreme Court today considered whether to weigh in on the issue. The court could announce as early as Monday whether it will review court challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act or the ruling against California's same-sex marriage ban.

The American public's views on allowing same-sex couples to marry are the same as they were in September, but support for same-sex marriage has risen since the spring and summer of this year.

There is a generational divide on this issue. Young Americans (those ages 18-29) are some of the strongest proponents of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Seventy-two percent of them support it, as do a majority --albeit a smaller one-- of Americans ages 30-44. However, support for same-sex marriage drops to 44 percent among those who are age 45-64 and even further to just a third of Americans age 65 and over. In fact, 56 percent of seniors oppose permitting same-sex couples to marry.

The CBS News Poll also finds more women (53 percent) than men (48 percent) think same-sex marriage should be legal. Women voters were instrumental in getting the ballot measures legalizing same-sex marriage passed. According to exit polls conducted in each of the three states, majorities of women approved of the same-sex marriage initiatives, while men opposed them.

Nationwide, opinions on same-sex marriage also differ by marital status. Married Americans are divided in their views, while 57 percent of unmarried Americans support allowing same-sex couples to marry.

As might be expected, there are differences by political party. Most Democrats think it should be legal for same-sex marriage couples to marry, while most Republicans do not. Fifty-five percent of independents support marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Prior to this past summer, the CBS News Poll had asked a different three-part question to measure attitudes on same-sex relationships which included a "civil unions" category. This question was last asked in May 2012 and that survey found most Americans supported some type of legal recognition for same-sex couples (38 percent through marriage and 24 percent through civil unions). Over the years that this question was asked, the percentage supporting marriage increased from just 22 percent in 2004 reaching a high of 42 percent in April 2009.

For full poll results, see next page

This poll was conducted by telephone from November 16-19, 2012 among 1,100 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters could be plus or minus three points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

CBS News Poll: Same-Sex Marriage

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