A narrow majority of voters in Maine supports giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, a new poll has found.

According to a Public Policy Polling survey released last week, 51 percent of Mainers believe gay marriage should be legal. Forty-two percent said the institution should remain a union between a man and a woman, while 8 percent refused to answer.

When other forms of legal recognition were added, a large majority (82%) said gay couples should be legally recognized with either full marriage (46%) or civil unions (36%). Only 17 percent of respondents said there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

And more voters favor a gay marriage law that respects the right of churches to not perform the ceremonies 48 to 35 percent.

The poll belies a 2009 referendum that repealed 53-47 a gay marriage law approved by lawmakers. It is also good news for gay marriage activists in the state who are working to put the issue up for a vote next year.

(Related: Gay marriage campaign in Maine gathers 40,000 signatures in 6 weeks.)