A majority of Minnesotans oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.

Fifty-three percent of Minnesotans say the state statute banning same-sex unions should stand. Only 38 percent say legislators should overturn the law this year, while 9 percent are undecided.

The new poll offers a fresh snapshot of an issue that has deeply divided the state. It was just five months ago that Minnesotans rejected a proposal to put the ban into the state's Constitution. Legislators now are considering bills that would make gay marriage legal.

House Speaker Paul Thissen said he found the poll results surprising, with stronger opposition than has been seen in other samplings.

"There have been a number of polls on the issue. The trend in general is moving toward acceptance of marriage equality," said Thissen, a Minneapolis DFLer. "There will certainly be more conversation on this. Our members are talking to their constituents, which is more important than any poll."

The poll of 800 Minnesotans, taken Feb. 25-27, shows that resistance is strongest in outstate Minnesota. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Outstate, 73 percent respondents oppose allowing gay couples to legally wed in Minnesota, with only 27 percent favoring such unions or undecided.

"Gay marriage is not right, and that's just all there is to it," said Ed Carlson, 66, a retiree from the Potlatch paper company who lives in Brainerd. "I feel very strongly about it."

The Twin Cities area remains the core of support for those who want to legalize same-sex marriage, with metro area suburban residents narrowly siding with those who want to change the law.

In Hennepin and Ramsey counties, 57 percent want the Legislature to allow same-sex marriage, with 35 percent saying the law should be left as is. Metro suburbs are more closely divided, with 46 percent favoring legalization and 44 percent who want the ban to stay.

Jackie Colwell, 46, an Edina homemaker, said she wants same-sex marriage legalized but does not want the issue to consume the Legislature and prevent progress on crucial issues like education and the budget.

"If it can be done quickly without a lot of bells and whistles, then they should absolutely do it," Colwell said. "It's time for same-sex marriage to be legalized. Minnesota is ready for it. I just don't want it to become this circus atmosphere at the Capitol, though."

The poll found that a clear majority of men — 64 percent — oppose changing the law, with 24 percent in support. Another 12 percent are undecided.

Dan Frump, of Buffalo, said gay and lesbian couples deserve some legal protections and possibly recognition, but not a union called marriage.

"For me, it's a religious thing," said Frump, 72, who is retired from Toro Co. "In France, there's a legal marriage and a church marriage. That's what we should have here. I totally think there should be some legal contract of some sort."

Women are also divided, with 51 percent favoring a change in the law, compared with 43 percent who do not.

Younger Minnesotans are more likely to support legalizing gay marriage. Among those ages 18 to 34, more than half say the law should change, with 35 percent saying it should not.

Opposition to same-sex marriage grows as age increases, the poll found.

Among those 65 and older, 72 percent say the law should remain as it is, with only 20 percent supporting legalization.

Party divide

Party affiliation opens up another fault line.

About 76 percent of Republicans do not want the existing marriage law changed, while 17 percent do. Among independents, 62 percent want marriage to remain the union only of a man and woman.

DFLers form the bulk of the support for legalization, with 66 percent favoring a change in the law. Only 27 percent prefer the current law to remain.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he does not put much stock in polls. "It's no secret that Minnesotans are pretty divided on the subject," he said. "Members are going to do what they think personally, based on what their constituents are telling them."

Bakk said that fellow senators, not poll numbers, will decide whether the measure progresses. If it fails to meet crucial committee deadlines, it will have to wait until next year.

A spokeswoman for a group pushing to block same-sex marriage said the poll results strengthen the group's central argument: that the voters' decision to reject the constitutional amendment was not a mandate for the other side to seek legalization.

"The poll certainly helps highlight that the issue of the constitutional amendment is very separate from redefining marriage," said Autumn Leva of Minnesota for Marriage.

Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, which is leading the effort to legalize same-sex marriage, said the group's research shows that most Minnesotans want gay and lesbians to be allowed to marry and that an even larger majority believes the change will have no effect on them personally.

"Minnesotans are having a conversation about marriage," Carlbom said. "I think at the end of this conversation, the Legislature and the people of Minnesota will be at a place where they don't think it should be illegal to marry the person you love."

Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044