Australia is leading Britain and the US in its support for the implementation of equal gay marriage rights, a poll released today suggests.

An equal right for gay couples to marry had 49 percent support in Australia, 43 percent support in Britain and 42 percent support in the US, the Angus Reid Public Opinion survey found.

The survey also found that in Canada, where gay couples have been allowed to marry since 2005, a higher proportion of the public, 59 percent, were in favour of keeping that right in place.

The poll also found that 59 percent of Canadians, 53 percent of Australians and 49 percent of Britons believe people are born gay. 40 percent of Americans agreed.

Women across the four countries were more likely to back equal rights than men.

Angus Reid surveyed between one and two thousand people online in each country in January and February of this year.

The statement with which respondents could agree was: “Same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry”.

In the UK, 44 percent of respondents said in a referendum they would define marriage as being between “two people”, another 44 percent said between “a man and a woman” and 12 percent said they would not answer.

In the US, 43 percent chose the gender-neutral option but it had majority support in Australia with 53 percent.

A recent poll in the UK commissioned by Catholic Voices claimed 70 percent of respondents opposed equal marriage rights for gays because they agreed with the statement: “Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.”

The poll has been criticised for the phrasing of that statement and the preceding questions.

Despite the apparent poll lead for Australia, just Britain has any prospect of introducing same sex marriage on a national basis in the near future. The leaders of all major opposition parties support Conservative prime minister David Cameron’s plans for introducing same sex civil marriage.

In Australia, the Labor Party voted last year to change its position on marriage to give equal rights to gay couples and Prime Minister Gillard announced she would allow her MPs a free, ‘conscience’ vote, although she is not personally a supporter of equal marriage rights.

Australia’s official opposition, a coalition of parties led by the Liberals, opposes gay marriage. They have 71 seats in the House of Representatives’ 150 seats, compared with the Labor party’s 72.

Meanwhile, in the USA there are no proposals to recognise marriage federally, although it is recognised in some states on a state only basis.