Minnesota Poll: A subtle shift on gay unions

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2009 - 11:59 AM

More Minnesotans appear to be accepting of same-sex marriage. Their age, politics and where they live influence that opinion, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll..

With the state Supreme Court in neighboring Iowa rewriting that state's definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, Minnesotans are divided on the subject in this state, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll finds:

• One-third say the state needs a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage;

• Just over one-third say that there should be no change in current state law, which bans such unions, and that it should be left to the Minnesota Supreme Court to rule on the law's constitutionality;

• One-fourth believe same-sex marriage should be legalized.

The survey of 1,042 adults was conducted April 20-23, and has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points, plus or minus.

The issue is likely to become more visible after the Iowa court ruling. Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts also allow same-sex marriage. Forty-three states, including Minnesota, explicitly limit marriage to one man and one woman, including 29 states with constitutional amendments to that effect.

While many people say their position on gay marriage has been consistent over time -- either because of religious beliefs or personal experience -- there does appear to be some movement toward acceptance. A Minnesota Poll in 2004 found that 58 percent would have voted for an amendment that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Thirty-five percent would have opposed it. The new poll, however, did not ask how respondents would vote if an amendment were on the ballot.

Kristal Reid, a 41-year-old teacher's assistant from North St. Paul, believes the state Supreme Court would make the right decision on the issue, more so than the Legislature or if left to the voters.

"It's gotten to the point where enough states are turning the tide where they would consider it a constitutional right. It's not infringing on anybody's rights or freedoms," she said. "Love is fleeting and it doesn't grace everybody, and if you can find it, hang on to it."

Geography, age, politics divide

Poll respondents in outstate Minnesota were notably less like to support legalization (19 percent) than respondents in the seven-county metro area (31 percent). A generational divide is also visible. Among respondents aged 18-34, 38 percent said they support legalizing same-sex marriage, while only 12 percent of those 65 and older approve.

Responses split along political lines as well. Only 5 percent of Republicans support legalizing same-sex marriage, compared with 40 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents.

Same-sex marriage has been more hotly debated in the Minnesota Legislature in previous years. This year, supporters have introduced two measures: one that would redefine marriage to include same-sex unions, the other that would recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Opponents have also introduced legislation for constitutional amendments that would bar same-sex marriage. None of the bills on either side has gained much traction.

But Andrea Barnes, a 25-year-old Kmart worker in Winona, said recent developments in Iowa are likely to elevate the discussion in Minnesota. She supports legalizing same-sex marriage.

"I hope it encourages more people to talk about it," she said. "I don't see why it would hurt anybody. They are not taking anything away from anybody else."

Jim McCollum, a 39-year-old biology teacher from Pierz, Minn., would prefer a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He believes more visibility for the issue will hurt the cause of equality for gays and lesbians.

"I've been hearing is a lot of Iowa jokes because of it," he said. "I don't think that people ... want their lifestyle to be a joke. It's more in people's faces. It's going to hurt their cause more than help it. It's turning a lot of people who are middle of the road off on them."

Some appear to support the idea of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples but resist the idea of using the word "marriage."

"I grew up Catholic and marriage has always been a religious thing, something you do in the church," said Dale Pierson, 39, of Lakeland, who supports a constitutional amendment. "I'm all for the same rights, the same health care, the same death benefits. Just leave the word marriage out of it would be the only thing."

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636

  • related content

  • Graphic: Minnesota's views on same-sex marriage

    Friday May 1, 2009

    Minnesota poll data on views on same-sex marriage. Poll conducted April 20-23.

  • How the poll was conducted

    Thursday April 30, 2009

    Today's Star Tribune Minnesota Poll findings were based on telephone interviews conducted April 20 to April 23 with a representative sample of 1,042 Minnesota adults 18 years and older. Interviews...

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