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Poll: Most favor gays serving openly

As opponents of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy prepare a final push for repeal during Congress’s lame duck session, polling shows that they’ve got the wind of public opinion at their backs.

A new survey out Monday from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that 58 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly. Less than a third of respondents (27 percent) say that gays and lesbians should not be permitted to serve openly in the Armed Forces.

Democrats and independents favor letting gays serve openly in the military by wide margins, but Republicans remain divided on the question. About 40 percent say that gays should be permitted to serve openly, while 44 percent say they should not.

National approval for openly gay service members is mirrored in almost every religious and age group, according to the poll.

Over half of Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants say that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Only white evangelicals generally oppose that policy (34 percent favor open service; 48 percent oppose.)

Support for allowing gays to serve openly is still highest among young Americans, with almost 70 percent of those 18-29 favoring the proposal. But only 44 percent of Americans over 65 agree with their younger counterparts.

The Pew study’s findings are similar to those in a NBC/WSJ survey earlier this month, which found that support for letting gays serve openly has jumped from 40 percent in 2000 to 50 percent in 2010.

A Pentagon report about the potential effects of repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law will be released Tuesday, and the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on the issue Thursday and Friday.

Most Republicans are withholding support for repeal until after reviewing the Pentagon findings. But some leading GOP members of the Armed Services panel, including ranking member John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have said that the report is fundamentally flawed in its approach.

NBC’s Ken Strickland contributed to this report.