The Evolution of Acceptance: Majority of Americans Now Support Gay Marriage

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For the first time, a majority of Americans claim that same-sex marriages should be recognized by law. But despite these gains, the issue remains more divisive than ever before.

A new Gallup poll released on Friday reveals that 53% of Americans believe that gay marriage should be legalized, and that couples who enter into these unions should be provided with the same rights as traditional marriages — a 9% increase from 2010, when only 44% of respondents said that gay marriage should be legal.

The poll, which has tracked attitudes on the subject since 1996 when only 27% of Americans believed that homosexual individuals should be allowed to marry, not only reflects recent gains in gay rights, but also a more accepting viewpoint that’s evolved in American society over the past year.

(VIDEO: The story of a gay marriage in California)

At the federal level, the Obama administration has made strides for gay rights by announcing that it will no longer defend the long-debated Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and repealing the highly controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military. Locally, states continue to wrestle with the issue of gay marriage, with five states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, plus Washington D.C. — currently recognizing same-sex unions, and many more battling for it on a daily basis. In pop culture, as shows like Glee and Modern Family with openly gay characters gain popularity, homosexual relationships have moved from behind the veil of secrecy to become embedded in American society.

But while the Gallup poll signifies an overall shift in the country’s sentiment toward gay rights, two unsurprising groups of Americans appear to be holding tight to their beliefs — older adults and Republicans. In fact, clear majorities of both Democrats and Independents — 69% and 59%, respectively — support gay marriage, while only 28% of Republicans offer their support. That’s a zero percent change for Republicans from the 2010 poll.

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Additionally, while 70% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 support gay marriage — a 16% increase from 2010 — only 39% of those older than 55 support it.

The results of this poll will undeniably be used to lobby legislators for more expansive gay rights in the coming year, but its partisan statistics show that one thing is for certain: The more things change, the more they stay the same. (via Gallup)

(PHOTOS: A visual history of the gay rights movement)