A national poll says that 53 per cent of Americans support gay marriage equality.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll asked 1,001 respondents: “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?”

This is the first time a Post-ABC poll has found majority support for the issue. The wording of the question is the same as in previous years.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents were strongly opposed to marriage equality, while 36 per cent were strongly in favour.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said: “This is very consistent with a lot of other polling data we’ve seen and the general momentum we’ve seen over the past year and a half.

“As people have come to understand this is about loving, committed families dealing, like everyone, with tough times, they understand how unfair it is to treat them differently.”

Previous polls have typically found higher support for gay marriage in women than men. However, the latest survey shows the same level of support across the gender divide.

Republicans, white evangelical Christians and conservatives remain the groups most opposed.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, argued that all 31 states that have put same-sex marriage on the ballot voted to ban it.

He told the Washington Post: “We’ve seen these biased polls time and time again – right before votes in which same-sex marriage is rejected. It’s absurd. The people of this country have not changed their opinion about marriage.”

Five states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington DC – currently allow gay couples to marry.

California’s ban is under review. Maryland was expected to be next to make the change but a bill failed to gain the necessary support.

In the US, the Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognising gay marriage. The Obama administration recently announced it would no longer defend the law in court, although the Republican-controlled House has voted to do so.

Democrats in the both the House and the Senate will launch bills to repeal the law shortly.