A new national poll conducted by CNN and released on Wednesday has found that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage rights and are increasingly positive towards gays and lesbians.

The telephonic survey of over 1,000 adults found that 54% of Americans now believe that same-sex marriages should be legally recognised. This is compared to 44% of people in 2008.

The poll found that there was a distinct age and political divide on the issue. Many more younger people, 65% of those under 50, were in favour of same-sex marriage, compared to just 41% of those older than 50.

While 70% of Democrats and 60% of independent voters backed legalised gay marriage, 72% of Republicans were opposed to it.

In what is seen as a sign that gay people are increasingly comfortable with being open about their sexuality, a whopping 60% of those surveyed said that they have a close friend or family member who is gay. In 2010, just two years ago, this was 49%.

A majority of people (58%) also believe that someone who is gay or lesbian cannot change his or her sexual orientation, even if they try to do so.

Currently, six American states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. This year, Maryland and Washington State approved marriage equality laws, but they are not yet in effect and are likely to be subject to referenda.

Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), even lawfully-married couples cannot be recognised by the federal government and, as a result, are denied access to federal rights, benefits and responsibilities.

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