The American public is gradually embracing same-sex marriage, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll that finds support for gay marriage reaching a new peak and opposition to same-sex marriage dropping to a new low.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, think people of the same sex should be allowed to marry, while 39 percent of people surveyed said that same-sex marriage should not be legal. That marks a swift reversal from less than a decade ago, when a clear majority of respondents to a Washington Post/ABC poll rejected gay marriage.

When President Obama publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage earlier this month, he cited his personal interactions with same-sex couples in healthy relationships and his daughters' easy acceptance of gay unions. He also spoke about a new generation of Americans that is more open to the idea, with college Republicans on campuses he visits stridently questioning his stances on some issues but making it very clear that when it comes to same-sex equality or, you know -- sexual orientation -- that they believe in equality, the president said.

The point is that more exposure to same-sex couples seems to be directly correlated to rising support for same-sex marriage, and the Washington Post/ABC news poll found that 71 percent of Americans have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is openly gay, up from 59 percent in 1998.

Since Obama made his announcement, political prognosticators have been trying to divine how voters might react in November: Despite polls such as this one reflecting increased backing for same-sex marriage, many religious Americans and minorities remain opposed. As recently as 2004, the issue was divisive and volatile enough that President Bush was able to build a winning coalition of voters in part by capitalizing on people mobilized by their distaste for same-sex marriage.

But President Obama's announcement may have little effect in swaying crucial independent voters. 55 percent of respondents to the poll said same-sex marriage was not a major factor in their choice of a presidential candidate, and those who said it was an important factor essentially canceled each other out, with 20 percent saying it made them more likely  to back Obama and 23 percent saying the opposite.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll affirmed that same-sex marriage is unlikely to be a decisive factor in the presidential election. 62 percent of Americans said a candidate's position on same-sex marriage would not change their vote, while those who said Obama's backing of gay marriage would make them much more likely or somewhat more likely to vote for the president -- 17 percent -- were statistically equal to the 20 percent who said it would make them more likely to vote for Mitt Romney (Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, opposes same-sex marriage and has said he favors a constitutional amendment banning it).

Despite the excitement attending Obama's declaration of support for gay marriage, marriage law is largely the province of state governments -- it is state legislatures, not Congress, that vote to extend or deny legal recognition to same-sex couples. While Washington, New York and Maryland recently legalized same-sex marriage, 38 states have laws or constitutional amendments defining marriage as being strictly between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found support for altering that status quo. 54 percent of respondents said they would favor a law in their state legalizing same-sex marriage, easily eclipsing the 40 percent who rejected the idea.