A US poll has found that 47 percent of people are in favour of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, with 43 percent opposed, adding to a growing body of evidence that the country is increasingly moving towards the direction of equality.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (PRC), which conducted the polling, tested three contentious issues, gun rights, equal marriage, and abortion, ahead of the presidential campaigns, and compared the results to those conducted by the same organisation in 2004 and 2008.

While in 2004, the support for equal marriage stood at 31% and the opposition at 60%, in 2008, the division stood at 39% in favour and 51% opposed. Now, it stands at 47% in support and 43% opposed, marking the first time an admittedly slim majority favoured what the survey terms as ‘gay marriage.’

This represents a considerable change in just under a decade, as a slide-show which accompanies the research shows. Only last year, the survey found that the country was equally divided on equal marriage.

In addition, when the survey asked the respondents to rate ‘strong support’ against ‘strong opposition,’ the results are equally divided, with both standing at 22%. In 2008, 30% strongly opposed equal marriage, against 14% who strongly supported, and the division stood at 36% (opposed) and 11% (favour) in 2004.

The survey also found that, compared to previous years, public opinion has grown more conservative on gun control, and remains largely the same on legal abortion, which is to say, in favour of it in most cases. And, as previously reported, the polling reaffirmed that social issues scored far low on the list of voter priorities, with economy and jobs scoring as more significant.

The poll also provides interesting data on how the support varies along the lines of age, political sympathies and ethnicity. Opposition to equal marriage has declined among young people and older generations alike, by 18 percentage points. Now, young people favour marriage equality by more than two-to one (65% to 30%), whereas in 2004, it stood equally divided (48% to 45%). Those 65 and above still continue to oppose it (56%), but those who strongly oppose it now stands at 28%, which was at 46% eight years ago.

As for political sympathies, majorities of Democrats and independents favour marriage equality, though in 2004 both groups opposed it. Republican opposition, though declined by 10 points since 2004, still remains strong (68% to 23%), though this is because White evangelical Protestants remain unchanged in their opinion, with 78% opposing the measure.

Finally, in 2008, white people opposed equal marriage by a 10-point margin (51% to 41%) and blacks by 37 points (63% to 26%). Support for equal marriage has increased among both groups, though the increase is dramatic among African Americans. Black people supporting ‘gay marriage’ now stands at 39%, with opposition at 48%, representing a 27-point reduction in opposition to equal marriage. Among white people, 47% now support equality in marriage.

The survey was conducted between 4th and 15th of April, among a national sample of 3,008 adults, across all of US.