Washington (CNN) – A majority of Americans say that same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal should also be recognized as valid by the federal government, according to a new national survey.
The CNN survey was released Tuesday, one day before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, forbids the recognition of same-sex marriages nationwide, and bars married gay and lesbian couples from receiving federal benefits. And on the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a related case regarding California's same-sex marriage ban, known as Proposition 8.
According to the poll, 56% of the public says the federal government should also legally recognize same-sex marriages, with 43% disagreeing.
"Not surprisingly, there is a wide partisan divide on this issue, with three-quarters of Democrats - and only a quarter of all Republicans - calling for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in states that allow them," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Fifty-six percent of independents say that the federal government should recognize such marriages.
The survey also highlights generational, gender and geographic divides.
"Opposition to federal recognition of same-sex marriage comes mostly from men, senior citizens and rural Americans; support is highest among women, 18-to-34 year olds, and urban residents," adds Holland.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the appeal of lower court decisions that struck down provisions in DOMA. The Obama administration declined to defend the law in court, but congressional Republicans, operating officially as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives, took over the role normally filled by the Justice Department's solicitor general.
The marriages of an estimated 120,000 gay and lesbian couples in the nine states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage are not recognized by the federal government as military spouses, social security beneficiaries or for other purposes.
Congress passed the measure and President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996. Clinton recently renounced the law as "incompatible with our Constitution," saying "it was a very different time" when he put his signature on it.
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 Supreme Court producer Bill Mears contributed to this report.