A poll of Americans suggest that 54 per cent believe gay marriage should not be legal, compared to 44 per cent who support it.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showed a marked difference between older and younger voters, with 58 per cent of those between 18 and 34 saying it should be legal, compared to 42 per cent of those aged 35 to 49 and 41 per cent of respondents aged 50 to 64.

Only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older support recognising same-sex marriages.

However, there was higher support for civil unions, with six out of ten of those polled saying that states which do not offer gay marriages should allow gay couples to have civil unions.

As with gay marriage, there was a sliding scale of support with regards to age.

The poll also showed a geographical split.

“It’s not surprising that three Northeastern states are the first to take this step,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland, referring to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.

“A majority of people who live in the Northeast say they approve of same-sex marriage. Solid majorities in the South, Midwest and West all oppose gay marriage.”

Forty-nine per cent of respondents said they had a gay friend or family member, up 17 points from 1992.

According to Holland, support for gay marriage rose among those who said they knew a gay person.

“People who say they have a gay friend or relative support same-sex marriage,” he said. “Most of those who say they don’t know anyone who is gay, oppose gay marriage.”

The poll surveyed 2,019 adults by telephone in April and has a margin error of plus or minus three percentage points.