Opposition to equal marriage has fallen to a record low, and this change might be connected to President Obama’s endorsement of the measure, a new poll by Washington Post and ABC News suggests.

Almost 53 percent of Americans say that marriage should be extended to gay couples, which is a 17 percent increase from the poll just six years ago. Just 39 percent, a record low, say that equal marriage should be illegal.

The most encouraging finding for gay rights activists is that 59% of African Americans now support equal marriage, whereas only an average of 41% said they supported the measure before Mr Obama’s public endorsement of the right of gay couples to marry. This is a statistically significant result, although the sample size of black voters is relatively small, which makes the findings somewhat tentative.

Underlining the importance of friends and families in determining support for gay rights, 71% of Americans have said they have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is gay, whereas the number stood at 63% in 2010 and 59% in 1998.

However, the poll does find a majority saying that equal marriage was not a priority for them when voting in the election, and also that on the question whether the issue should be addressed at the state or the federal level, public opinion remains divided.

Frank Schubert, national political director of the National Organisation for Marriage – an organisation that purportedly attempted to divide ethnic minorities and gay community in order to muster opposition to equal marriage — was quick both to dismiss the findings of the poll, and the finding about increased support among black voters.

Mr Schubert pointed out that wherever equal marriage ended up in polls, the measure was defeated, and where it was passed at all, it was through legislative or court action. He also said: “There is not a chance in God’s green earth that African Americans support same-sex marriage,” adding that Mr Obama’s support had “created a lot of angst and conflict in that community, but his opinion of same-sex marriage is not going to be changing the opinion of African Americans in a significant way.”

Gay rights activists, however, have been quick to welcome the findings, saying Mr Obama’s endorsement showed how a powerful voice of support can change public mood and opinion.