A plurality of Hawaii voters support the legalization of gay marriage, according to a new poll released on Friday.

The survey by Public Policy Polling shows 49 percent of respondents okay with giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, while 40 percent object. 11 percent said they are not sure.

In 1997, Hawaii began recognizing gay couples with reciprocal beneficiary relationships, which gives couples access to a limited number of state benefits, including inheritance rights, workers' compensation, health insurance, hospital visitation and healthcare decision making. Couples in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship can also jointly own property.

Afters years of campaigning by gay rights activists, Hawaii's civil unions law will take effect on January 1, 2012.

When civil unions are included as an option, a large majority of voters say they back gay unions.

Seventy-seven percent of voters support recognizing gay couples with either marriage or civil unions, while only 22 percent oppose all government recognition of gay couples. Of those in favor, 90 percent are Democrats, 77 percent are independents and 59 percent are Republicans.