Washington (CNN) - On the day that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced for the first time her support for same-sex marriage, a new national survey indicates a small majority of Americans backs such marriages, but that there are major generational and partisan divides, as well as a gender gap.
According to a CNN/ORC International poll, 53% of the public says that marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be legally recognized as valid, with 44% not supporting same-sex marriage.
"There are big differences among younger and older Americans, with the youngest age group twice as likely than senior citizens to support same-sex marriage," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Women are also more likely to call for legal recognition of gay marriage than men. And only three in ten Americans who attend religious services every week support same-sex marriage while six in ten Americans who don't attend church weekly feel that way."
The survey also points to the expected partisan divide on the topic same-sex marriages, with support from seven in ten Democrats and 55% of independent voters but just a quarter of Republicans.
Support for same-sex marriages topped 50% in the spring of 2011, and the number has remained consistently in the low to mid 50's ever since in CNN polling.
Clinton, the former first lady, 2008 Democratic presidential candidate and senator from New York, Monday announced that supports marriage rights for same-sex couples, saying that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."
"America is at its best when we champion the freedom and dignity of every human being," Clinton said in a video produced by the Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group and lobbying organization in the country.
Clinton had previously backed civil unions and partner benefits for same-sex couples, but had stopped short of a full endorsement for marriage. That was the position of most 2008 Democratic primary candidates, including then Sen. Barack Obama.
The poll was conducted March 15-17 for CNN by ORC International, with 1,021 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser and CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report