A new poll has revealed that 61% of Californians support the right of same-sex couple to marry, a record percentage of support.

The results of a Field Poll were released on Thursday, which showed that the support for equal marriage in the state had grown by 9% over five years, and opposition had fallen drastically.

This new survey comes just a month ahead of the US Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative which banned equal marriage in California, reports the Press Enterprise. 

The Supreme Court is due on 26 March to take up the case of whether to overturn Proposition 8, which in 2008 added a clause to the Californian constitution stating that marriage could only be recognised by the state if it were between a man and a woman, causing widespread controversy.

Back in 2008, 52% of Californians supported equal marriage with 48% against, and in Thursday’s poll, just 32% opposed it.

Benjamin Bishin, an associate professor of political science at UC Riverside, who has studied public attitudes towards equal marriage said: “Opinions are changing much faster than expected.”

He went on to say that support from President Barack Obama and other political leaders played a role in shifting attitudes towards supporting equal marriage, as well as support from equal marriage advocacy groups, which framed it as a matter of equality and fairness, and a civil right.

He emphasised the importance of wording, and said that increased visibility is a major contributing factor, in that, people are more likely to support equal marriage if they know gay and lesbian people.

A report was released in November which suggested that there had been a new, and rapid shift in support of equal marriage in the US, except in some southern states.

The support for equal marriage had risen across the US to 48%, whilst opposition to it had fallen from 50 to 43%.

Nine US states, and the District of Columbia, permit equal marriage.

John O’Connor, the executive director of Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights group, said that, if the Supreme Court were to uphold Proposition 8 as constitutional  equal marriage advocates would be likely to go back to asking voters whether they would want equal marriage by ballot.

He said the Field Poll results “are consistent with what we’ve seen over the last several years: A swift and dramatic shift in public opinion on the side of marriage equality.”

Ronald Prentice, CEO of the California Family Council, and chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, the organisation behind the Proposition 8 efforts, said that such polls don’t necessarily reflect public opinion.

“I think there’s a difference between real numbers and poll numbers, which are based on the way in which a question is asked,” he said.

The recent poll found support for “allowing same-sex couples to marry and have regular marriage laws apply to them” across all regions of the state, and all age groups.

Historically young people have been the most accepting, with respondents aged 18 to 39 backing equal marriage most frequently, however for the first time the Field Poll has found that voters 65 and older have offered their support.