By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the dust settled on two major Supreme Court rulings this week that advanced gay marriage, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed that while about a third of Americans oppose the decisions, a majority are either in favor or had no strong opinion.
Forty-three percent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the court's decision to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which limited federal recognition of marriage to that between a man and a woman. The poll of 410 people who were asked separate questions about each ruling was conducted from Wednesday, the day of the rulings, and Friday.
By the same token, 41 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the court's handling of a case concerning a California law, Proposition 8, that banned gay marriage. The court declined to say whether the ban was lawful under the U.S. Constitution - a ruling that had the effect of opening the way for gay marriage in the state.
The poll showed that a quarter of those surveyed strongly opposed both decisions. About a quarter of respondents were either unfamiliar with the decisions or had no opinion.
"The recent decisions handed down by the Supreme Court are polarizing," said pollster Julia Clark. "While a plurality of Americans agree with the court's decisions to recognize same-sex marriages, a quarter remain firmly opposed."
The numbers reflect "the broader trend researchers are seeing around attitudes towards same-sex marriage, which show support increasing steadily among the populace over the past decade," she added.
Although the Supreme Court did not find a fundamental right for gay men and lesbians to marry, the two rulings taken together were seen as a major step forward for gay rights in the United States.
Both cases came before the court as polls show growing support among Americans for gay marriage but division among the 50 states.
With gay marriage now set to go ahead in California in the coming months, there will be 13 states that recognize it.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; editing by Howard Goller and Jackie Frank)