Public support for gay marriage has hit a new high as Americans increasingly see homosexuality not as a choice but as a way some people are, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The poll shows that 58 percent of Americans now believe it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married; 36 percent say it should be illegal. Public attitudes toward gay marriage are a mirror image of what they were a decade ago: in 2003, 37 percent favored gay nuptials, and 55 percent opposed them.
The Supreme Court takes up the issue of gay marriage next week, and nearly two-thirds of all Americans say the matter should be decided for all states on the basis of the U.S. Constitution, not with each state making its own laws.
Among young adults age 18 to 29, support for gay marriage is overwhelming, hitting a record high of 81 percent in the new poll. Support has also been increasing among older adults, but those aged 65 years old and up remain opposed, on balance: 44 percent say same-sex marriage should be legal; 50 percent say illegal.
A slim majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents under 50 years old now support gay marriage. Nearly seven in 10 of those aged 65 and up oppose it, although that is down from more than eight in 10 just four years ago.
There has been a related movement in public opinion about homosexuality. Fully 62 percent of Americans now say being gay is just the way some people are, not something people choose to be. About 20 years ago, fewer than half of the public said so.
In the current data, about three-quarters of those who do not see homosexuality as a choice support gay marriage, with most supporting it "strongly." More than two-thirds of those who see it as a choice oppose gay marriage, with almost all intensely against it.
Currently, gay marriage is legal in only nine states and the District of Columbia, but public views are more similar than not across state lines. In the states that allow gay marriage, 68 percent say such same-sex marriages should be legal, but so too do 56 percent of those in states where the practice is not legal.
Intensity on the matter is, however, different in those states. In places where gay marriage is legal, 52 percent feel strongly that it should be. That falls to 39 percent feeling strongly that it should be legal in states where it currently is not.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted March 7 to 10, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Cohen is director of polling at Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Pollsters Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement contributed to this report.