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Support for gay marriage rises among California voters, poll finds

An accelerating shift is under way among California voters on gay marriage, with 59 percent now in favor of allowing it, a new Field Poll suggests. That's up from 49 percent in 2009. 

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Same sex couples wait in line for a marriage license early Sunday morning in front of the Manhattan Office of the City Clerk in July, 2011.

Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor

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Registered voters in California approve of same-sex marriage by the biggest margin in 35 years of tracking, with 59 percent favoring full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, according to a Field Poll released Wednesday.

The poll suggests a significant and accelerating shift is under way among the state’s voters concerning one of the most divisive social issues in the country.

Gay rights activists point to the results as a harbinger of victories to come.

“With 59 percent of Californians now in favor of marriage equality, including nearly half of those over 60, the writing is on the wall,” said Rick Jacobs, founder of the gay rights group Courage Campaign.

The survey asked voters if they approved or disapproved of California allowing homosexuals to marry members of their own sex and have regular marriage laws apply to them. Thirty-four percent of respondents said they disapproved, while 59 percent said they approved. Seven percent expressed no opinion.

The California-based Field Research Corp. has been polling the gay marriage issue since 1977. That year the poll results showed 28 percent of California voters approving gay marriage and 59 percent opposed.

The 2012 results show the lowest disapproval rating and highest approval rating since the polls began.

“This division of sentiment is nearly a complete reversal of the findings from the first time The Field Poll began measuring Californians’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage,” the poll report says. The survey of 1,003 registered California voters was conducted between Feb. 2 and 18. It has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. 

The polling firm also asked voters to select one of three preferences on same-sex relationships. The options were to allow same-sex couples to marry; to allow civil unions only; and to bar any legal recognition.

When the options were first offered in 2006, 36 percent of respondents expressed a preference to allow same-sex marriage. This year, 51 percent chose that option.

In addition, 29 percent favored civil unions, and 15 percent would allow no legal recognition. Five percent of those surveyed expressed no opinion.

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