An important public perception threshold appears to have been crossed in the battle for same-sex marriage rights.
A CNN poll (pdf) released Wednesday finds that a clear majority of Americans support marriage rights for gays and lesbians.
“Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?” the poll asked.
Fifty-two percent of respondents thought marriage should be a right, while 46 percent disagreed and two percent had no opinion. The margin of error was 3 points.
A similar question that omitted the word “should” found that 49 percent said yes and 51 percent said no. A CBS poll last April found that “only a third of Americans think [same-sex] couples should be allowed to marry.”
Polling expert Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight called Wednesday’s survey a “landmark of sorts”:
Combining the two subsamples has 50.5 percent of Americans in support of gay marriage and 47.5 percent opposed: just about the barest possible majority. But a majority nevertheless, something that no previous poll had shown. An ABC/Washington Post poll from April 2009 had come the closest, showing a 49/46 plurality in support of gay marriage rights; a few other polls had also shown gay marriage to the plurality position when respondents were given a three-way choice of marriage, civil unions, and no legal recognition. But no national poll, save for one debatable case with highly unorthodox phrasing, had shown it to the the majority position.
The CNN poll was taken several days after a federal judge struck down California’s controversial Proposition 8 which had barred same-sex marriage in the state.
Last month, a US district judge in Boston, Massachusetts declared that parts of a 1996 law banning same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
President Barack Obama and leaders of both major US political parties oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, although Democrats are more supportive than Republicans of civil unions and partial rights for gay couples.
The CNN poll was conducted over the phone by Opinion Research Corporation on August 6-10, 2010 and surveyed 1,009 adult Americans.