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Half of Americans support gay marriage in new Gallup poll

Half of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal, but nearly as many are opposed, the Gallup organization said Tuesday in releasing a new poll that it said underscores “just how divided the nation is on this issue.”

Fifty percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal and bestow the same rights as traditional marriage, compared to 48 percent who don’t, according to the poll.

Support for gay marriage fell slightly in the new Gallup poll from a record high of 53 percent in 2011 – the first time a majority of Americans favored gay marriage -- while opposition rose from 45 percent.

Smaller same-sex marriage battleground this year than in 2004

The poll, conducted May 3-6 of a random sample of 1,024 adults, had a maximum margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, Gallup said.

“This year's results underscore just how divided the nation is on this issue. As a result, President Barack Obama's campaign strategy team obviously is continuing to grapple with how to handle it -- with the vice president on the one hand essentially endorsing legalized gay marriage, while the administration on the other hand stops just short of the same pronouncement,” the poll said in a statement, referring to Vice President Joe Biden’s comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage.

Biden: I'm absolutely comfortable with gay marriage

The release of the poll came as North Carolina residents voted Tuesday on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman and make marriage the only domestic legal union that would be valid in the state. Recent polls show the amendment passing. Thirty states already have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, while eight states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

Comments from Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan brought Obama's views about gay marriage back into national spotlight.NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

“We’re having a great debate about marriage in this country, and it’s not at all settled about which way we’re going to go,” said Thomas Peters, cultural director of the National Organization for Marriage, which supports the amendment. “Obviously … we believe that’s going to be settled one way.”

Gay-marriage advocates fear setback in North Carolina

In a NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released in March, Americans favored same-sex marriage by 49 percent to 40 percent. That marked  a reversal from October 2009, when opponents trumped supporters by 49 percent to 41 percent. Both women and black voters -- constituents that are strongly in Obama’s corner -- have moved in significant numbers to supporting gay marriage, that poll said.

Is Obama's gay marriage stance all about suburban voters?

Gallup noted that “Obama's core constituency of Democrats strongly supports the issue, as do the majority of the important election group of independents. The president has said his view on the issue is ‘evolving,’ so it is possible he will eventually go on record as supporting gay marriage, but for now, he officially remains opposed.”

According to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, a key electoral group -- suburban voters -- narrowly favored gay marriage, 45 percent to 43 percent. Obama supported civil unions but opposed marriage for gay couples during the 2008 campaign.

In gay marriage vote, it's Bill Clinton vs. Billy Graham

Paul Guequierre, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, which works on equal rights for the LGBT community, said the Gallup numbers were promising and he wasn’t sure that people were split as much as they once were.

“The news from Gallup today was very encouraging. It’s great to see that the American people are moving towards a position of support for LGBT equality. We’ve seen the numbers move in our favor for a number of years now, and to see the number over 50 percent is always encouraging,” Guequierre said. “It was just a few years ago, we were well below 50 percent, and we see the numbers moving in our direction.”

NBC's Domenico Montanaro contributed to this report

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