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Decade sees big rise in US support for gay marriage

Supporters hold a pro-gay marriage rally outside the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City, on January 28, 2014
Gay marriage supporters hold a rally outside the Utah State Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City

Support for gay marriage has seen dramatic gains in the United States over the past decade and now has the support of a majority of Americans, a study showed.

The survey by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, released Wednesday, found that 53 percent of Americans said they are in favor of gay marriage.

That number reflects a 21-point jump compared to 2003, when 32 percent of people said they supported same-sex marriage.

The survey reported a sizeable increase in support for gay marriage among many Americans who regularly attend houses of worship, sometimes viewed as being less receptive to gay rights issues.

The poll found majority support for gay marriage among practicing Jewish Americans (83 percent), white mainline Protestants, (62 percent); White Catholics (58 percent) and Hispanic Catholics, (56 percent).

Hispanic Protestants were split almost down the middle, with 46 percent saying they were in favor of same-sex marriage and 49 percent opposed.

Much less support was found among black Protestants (35 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (27 percent).

Spencer Geiger (L) and Carl Johansen demonstrate for equal marriage outside the Walter E. Hoffman US Courthouse, in Norfolk, Virginia, on February 4, 2014
Gay marriage supporters protest for equal marriage rights outside the Walter E. Hoffman U.S. Courthouse in Norfolk, Virginia on February 4, 2014

The pollsters said the big increase in support for gay marriage in recent years can be explained in large part by increasing numbers of straight people who say they have a close friend or relative who is gay or lesbian.

The poll found that to be particularly true for Americans in their 20s and early 30s -- often referred to as Millenials -- who sometimes go so far as to reject a childhood religion they deem to be homophobic.

Sixty-nine percent of Millenials favor gay marriage, the poll found.

"This new research provides further evidence that negative teachings on this issue have hurt churches' ability to attract and retain young people," said the institute's CEO Robert Jones.

"Nearly one-third of Millennials who left their childhood religion say unfavorable church teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people played a significant role in their decision to head for the exit," Jones said.

The survey queried 4,500 respondents between November 12 and December 18, and had a sampling error of plus or minus 1.7 points.

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