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Polls on gay marriage not yet reflected in state votes

Poll after poll shows public support for same-sex marriage steadily increasing, to the point where it's now a majority viewpoint. Yet in all 32 states where gay marriage has been on the ballot, voters have rejected it. 

It's possible the streak could end in November, when Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state are likely to have closely contested gay marriage measures on their ballots. 

For now, however, there remains a gap between the national polling results and the way states have voted. It's a paradox with multiple explanations, from political geography to the likelihood that some conflicted voters tell pollsters one thing and then vote differently. 

"It's not that people are lying. It's an intensely emotional issue," said Amy Simon, a pollster based in Oakland, Calif. "People can report to you how they feel at the moment they're answering the polls, but they can change their mind." 

California experienced that phenomenon in November 2008, when voters, by a 52-48 margin, approved a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution. 

California is an unusual case. It's one of a few reliably Democratic states that have had a statewide vote rebuffing same-sex marriage. The vast majority of the referendums have been in more conservative states, which have a greater predilection for using ballot measures to set social policy. The 32 states that have rejected gay marriage at the polls make up just over 60 percent of the U.S. population. 

In all, there are now six states with legal same-sex marriage and nine more granting gay and lesbian couples broad marriage-style rights via civil unions or domestic partnerships. Together, those 15 states account for about 35 percent of the U.S. population. 

Over the past year, there's been a stream of major national polls indicating that a majority of people support same-sex marriage. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday, 53 percent of those questioned say gay marriage should be legal, a new high for the poll, while 39 percent, a new low, say it should be illegal. 

Political consultant Frank Schubert, a leading strategist for campaigns against same-sex marriage, said such polls are misleading and he asserted that same-sex marriage would be rejected if a national referendum were held now.