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Support for gay marriage has surged in the United States in a decade with just over half of Americans now behind the idea, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Some 53 percent of those surveyed by the Public Religion Research Institute said they supported gay marriage, up from 32 percent in 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it.

Majorities in the Northeast, West and Midwest favor letting gay and lesbian couples marry while Southerners are split, with 48 percent opposing it and 48 percent favoring it.

Same-sex couples are banned from marrying in 33 states.

Fewer Americans who describe themselves as religious oppose same-sex marriages, with 83 percent of Jews polled supporting it. White Roman Catholics were next at 58 percent and 56 percent of Hispanic Catholics agreed with it.

Support among Protestants was lower with 69 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 59 percent of black Protestants and 49 percent of Hispanic Protestants opposing gay and lesbian marriage. Nearly three-quarters, or 73 percent, of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor legalizing it.

The survey of 4,509 Americans was funded by the Ford Foundation. The margin of error is 1.7 percentage points.

- Reuters