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Minnesotans are deeply divided over whether the state Constitution should be amended to define marriage as only the union of a man and woman, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
A year before they face the issue on the ballot, 48 percent of Minnesotans favor such an amendment while 43 percent oppose it. That falls within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The poll of 807 adults statewide, conducted Nov. 2-3, shows that battle lines will be drawn on clear partisan, generational, educational and geographic fractures.
Significant majorities of older voters, Republicans, voters with no college education and Minnesotans living outside of the metropolitan area support the amendment, which would have the effect of constitutionally banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
Similarly, significant majorities of younger voters, Democrats, college-educated and metro-area voters oppose the amendment.
More men than women support the amendment, with 52 percent of men saying that only heterosexual marriage should be recognized while only 45 percent of women hold that view.
"I don't really care what people do in their private lives," said 62-year-old communications consultant George Werl of Minneapolis. But he said marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples because it was designed to protect the children of those unions.
"I believe that that is what this thing called marriage is," Werl said. "How do we protect society with two same-sex people?"
Christina Edstrom sees a different societal purpose for marriage.
"I believe that everyone deserves to be treated equally and everyone deserve to marry who they love," said Edstrom, 28, of St. Louis Park. Edstrom, who works in the mental health field, said she knows marriage amendment battles have been bitter in other states but hopes Minnesota's coming contest will be different.
"I like to think of Minnesota as being more open-minded," she said.
Brian Finstrom, 27, of Kasota said his support for the amendment does not mean he lacks compassion for those who are gay.
"I can disagree with their lifestyle and yet I still can love them as people," Finstrom said. "I am a Christian and my belief is God created us male and female and he created us to be complete with one another."
The poll showed Minnesotans over 65 are the single strongest backers of such an amendment, with 70 percent supporting it. By contrast, only 33 percent of those under 35 favor the amendment, with 58 percent in that age group opposing it.
The poll may reflect some shifting opinions among Minnesota voters. In May of this year, just before the constitutional question was approved by the Legislature, 55 percent of respondents in a Minnesota Poll said they opposed the amendment while 39 percent favored a constitutional ban on gay marriage. That survey, like the one conducted last week, also reflected sharp demographic and partisan splits.
Amendment supporter Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage, said the early signs of support reflected in the recent Minnesota Poll was good news for his side. He said even though the lead in favor of the amendment is slim, it may reflect even more support.
Darrell said in other states, notably California and Maine, early polling showed marriage amendments failing. But when voters are in the secrecy of their voting booths, he said, they supported the amendments.
"People tend to give the politically correctly answer" on marriage amendment polls, he said.
But Grace Ruzicka, who participated in the poll, said amending the constitution to ban gay marriage is just wrong.
The 20-year-old student and bartender from Hopkins said she sees a "merging of church and state" from those backing the amendment. "I definitely oppose it," Ruzicka said.
Richard Carlbom, campaign manager of Minnesotans United for All Families, said he sees hopeful news in the numbers. Minnesotans United is a coalition of more than 100 gay rights, political, religious and union groups that are organizing to defeat the amendment.
"Everybody is under 50 percent," Carlblom said, adding that he expects the numbers to change as Election Day approaches. "We are at the beginning of a very long conversation about this," he said.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb
STAR TRIBUNE MINNESOTA POLL
"Would you favor or oppose amending the Minnesota Constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman?"