Republicans are expecting to introduce a Defense of Marriage Act in North Carolina in 2011, but a survey released on Monday by Elon University reveals that more than half of North Carolina residents actually support at least some form of legal recognition for gay couples. Over a quarter support full marriage equality.

“That’s a substantial move,” said Hunter Bacot, the survey’s director. “We’re seeing people becoming more comfortable with the issue.”

The state does currently ban gay marriages, but there is no constitutional amendment in place. However, one has been proposed by Republican senators, who now control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in over a century.

The survey found that opposition to all forms of legal recognition of gay couples has dropped to 35 per cent, down from 44 per cent two years ago.

Despite the positive results, Equality North Carolina director Ian Palmquist said the organisation is not currently focused on legal recognition for gay couples, because Republicans have not shown any willingness to allow that. They are instead concentrating on preventing the constitutional ban on gay marriage, and have recently received funding from The Human Rights Campaign.

Obama recently said his administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, and Ireland recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of gay marriage in a similar survey.