Maryland residents are shifting toward a more positive opinion of same-sex marriage, with registered voters now narrowly supporting a law to allow it, a Washington Post poll has found.

A clear majority of people responding to the poll — 55 percent — also say that if gays get married in another state, those unions should be considered legal in Maryland; 38 percent say the state should not recognize them. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) in February told state agencies to begin granting married same-sex couples from elsewhere the same rights as Maryland’s heterosexual couples.

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The poll, conducted May 3-6, finds that 46 percent overall favor legal same-sex marriage, 44 percent oppose it, and 10 percent have no opinion. Among registered voters, 48 percent are in favor and 43 percent are opposed.

In late 2007, an identical Post poll question found 44 percent in favor overall and 51 percent opposed.

Maryland’s move away from a clear majority opposition to same-sex marriage — and into a nearly equally split electorate — mirrors national trends. The numbers also suggest that Gansler’s position is more closely aligned with public opinion than his opponents’ views.

A conservative Anne Arundel County state delegate tried unsuccessfully to impeach Gansler, and a coalition of black pastors and conservative Christians repeatedly traveled to Annapolis this spring to hold rallies in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to pass bills that would have rolled back the attorney general’s decision.

Gansler, who is Maryland’s only statewide elected official to endorse same-sex marriage, said Monday that the evolution of public opinion on same-sex marriage is progress.

“More and more people know gay people and realize they are working people, that they do their jobs and conduct their lives like everybody else,” Gansler said.

“Attitudes are changing, and they are changing rapidly because there is a recognition that it is unfair, legally and morally, to prohibit people from the pursuit of happiness,” he added. “Twenty years from now we’ll look back and think this was a quaint discussion — every state will have gone this way.”

But Del. Emmett C. Burns (D), a Baltimore County pastor and an opponent of same-sex marriage, said the poll results do not show a change in public opinion. He said the numbers instead reflect that Marylanders are being pressured to accept same-sex marriage.

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