The public backlash over gay marriage has receded since a controversial decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 to legalize those marriages stirred strong opposition, says a poll released Wednesday.
Gay marriage remains a divisive issue, with 51 percent opposing it, the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found. But almost two-thirds, 63 percent, opposed gay marriage in February 2004.
"Most Americans still oppose gay marriage, but the levels of opposition are down and the number of strong opponents are down," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "This has some implications for the midterm elections if this trend is maintained. There are gay marriage ballot initiatives in numerous states."
Gay marriage got intense media coverage in 2004 after the Massachusetts court case, the decision by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to issue thousands of marriage licenses to gay couples and similar cases. But the intense focus on gay marriage has declined in the last year.
In 2004, opponents of gay marriage were able to pass ballot initiatives banning the practice in 11 states, from Georgia to Oregon. Those gay marriage initiatives also helped conservatives rally their voters to the polls.
The number of people who say they strongly oppose gay marriage has dropped from 42 percent in early 2004 to 28 percent now. Strong opposition has dropped sharply among senior citizens and Republicans.
People are now evenly split on allowing adoptions by gay couples and six in 10 now favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
Legal challenges of laws on gay marriage could result in more court decisions that stir public opinion, but this midterm election year is starting with far less public anxiety about one of the nation's most volatile social issues.
The telephone poll of 1,405 adults was conducted March 8-12 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.