(CNN) - Nearly half of all Americans think the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll.
Forty-nine percent of respondents think gay and lesbian couples have the constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law, while 51 percent say those rights do not exist.
The gap widens dramatically when age is taken into account. Nearly six in ten Americans under the age of 50 say gay rights are protected under the Constitution. Only 38 percent of Americans over the age of 50 say the same thing.
"This is one of the few instances when independents side with one party rather than falling in between the Dems and the GOP," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "56 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents think the Constitution conveys the right to marry to same-sex couples. Only a quarter of all Republicans agree."
In a separate question, some respondents were asked whether the Constitution should (rather than does) give gays and lesbians the right to marry.
"That's different than asking respondents what they think is currently in the Constitution," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
In that separate question, 52% said that same-sex couples should have the constitutional right to marry; 46% say the Constitution should not convey that right.
"It's possible that this is an indication that some Americans believe that the right to marry is not in the Constitution but would support an amendment to add it," Holland notes. "But taking into account the sampling error, there is no statistical difference between the 49 percent who think the Constitution already gives that right to gays and the 52 percent who think it should. So it's difficult to draw any conclusion beyond the basic finding that Americans are closely divided on this topic."
The questions asked in this poll have a range of sampling errors from plus/minus 4.5 to 8 percent.