Washington (CNN) - A majority of Americans say they support legally recognizing same-sex marriage amid growing evidence that the public's become more comfortable with gays and lesbians, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/ORC International survey released Wednesday also indicates that the number of Americans who say they have a close friend or family member who is gay has jumped from 49% in 2010 to 60% today, the first time in CNN polling that a majority of Americans have said that. In the 1990s, most Americans said they did not know anyone close to them who was gay.
"Attitudes toward sexual orientation have also changed over that same time period," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In 1998, a majority believed that someone who is gay or lesbian could change their sexual orientation if they choose to do so. Today, only a third feel that way, and the number who say that gays and lesbians cannot change their orientation is almost six in ten. Those shifts probably explain the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage."
According to the survey, 54% now say that marriages between gay and lesbian couples should be recognized as valid by law, with 42% opposed. Sentiment is strong on both sides of the debate, with more than three-quarters of supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage saying that they feel strongly about that issue.
The poll indicates a partisan divide, with seven in ten Democrats as well as six in ten independent voters saying same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid, and 72% of Republicans opposed. The survey also indicates a generational divide, with nearly two-thirds of those under 50 in favor of legal same sex marriages and 55% of those 50 and older opposed.
The poll's release comes one day after a federal appeals court in San Francisco refused to revisit the issue of same-sex marriage, months after judges gave gay and lesbian couples the constitutional blessing to wed in the state, by ruling California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional. A stay on same-sex marriages in California remains in place until the issue is exhausted in the courts. Supporters of Proposition 8 vow to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from May 29-31, with 1,009 adults nationwide were questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for registered voters.
– CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this story