About half of Tennesseans support recognizing the relationships of gay and lesbian couples with either marriage or civil unions.

According to a poll released this month for Vanderbilt University, 49 percent of respondents support either marriage or civil unions for gay couples, while 46 percent remain opposed to both.

Sixty-two percent of respondents also believe that the spouses of domestic partners should receive health insurance and other employee benefits. Thirty-one percent disagreed.

“This is kind of consistent with the national trend,” Josh Clinton, associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt, told The Tennessean.

In 2006, 81 percent of Tennessee voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a heterosexual union.

Chris Sanders, president of gay rights group the Tennessee Equality Project, applauded the findings.

“Tennesseans are traditional – they are standing by their religious view of marriage – but they are not cruel,” Sanders said. “Tennesseans are looking for a way to help people and protect their conservative view at the same time.”