(CNN) - As people in North Carolina vote on a controversial referendum that would constitutionally ban same sex marriages, a new national poll indicates that half of the public supports legalizing such unions.
According to a Gallup survey released Tuesday, 50% of Americans say that same sex marriages should be recognized as legal, with 48% saying such marriages should not be legal.
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The 50% support for same sex marriages is down slightly from 53% from Gallup polling last year, which was the first year dating to 1996 that a majority supported legalizing same sex marriages.
The poll's release comes two days after Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he was "absolutely comfortable" with the idea of same-gender unions.
The vice president added, however, that it's the president, not him, who sets the administration's policy.
President Barack Obama, who once opposed same-sex marriage, says he supports civil unions for same sex couples, and has taken the official position that his views on the issue are "evolving."
Forty-seven percent of people questioned in a Pew Research Center poll conducted last month said they favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, with 43% opposed. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in March indicated that 52% supported legal same sex marriages, with 43% opposed. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also conducted in March indicated 49% in support of legal same sex marriage and 40% opposed. And according to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted last autumn, 53% backed legalized same sex marriages, with 46% opposed.
All of these surveys indicated building support for legal same sex marriages over the past decade.
Like the other polls, the new Gallup survey indicates a partisan divide on the issue, with almost two-thirds of Democrats and 57% of independents but just 22% of Republicans supporting legalizing same-sex marriages.
According to the Gallup poll, there's also a divide along religious lines, with Catholics, by a 51%-47% margin, in support of legal same sex marriages but Protestants, by a 59%-38% margin, opposed. The survey also indicates that the more frequently a person attends religious services, the less likely that person is to support legalizing same sex marriages.
The Gallup poll was conducted May 3-6, with 1,024 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.