Last week's telephone survey of 625 registered voters found 54 percent opposed to legalizing gay marriage in Minnesota. Twenty-nine percent said they support it and 17 percent were undecided. When MPR and the Pioneer Press asked the same question in a poll two years ago, opposition to gay marriage was nine points higher, at 63 percent.
Minnesotans also have a more favorable view of civil unions, which would give gay and lesbian couples many of the legal protections of marriage. The new poll found 49 percent support legalizing civil unions, with 39 percent opposed. The earlier poll showed support for civil unions at 44 percent and opposition at 47 percent.
Ann Degroot, executive director of the gay/lesbian advocacy group Out Front Minnesota, says the numbers are changing as voters learn more about the issue.
"This issue of same-sex marriage in particular but also legalizing our relationships is a tough question and it's a tough issue and it's something people hadn't thought about," Degroot said. "And it requires people to really spend some time talking and thinking about, and the numbers reflect that. And I think the numbers reflect that people take this seriously and that they don't want to make rash decisions."
A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage did not make it on the ballot in Minnesota this year. If it had, the poll results suggests the vote could have been close. Forty- seven percent oppose an amendment, 40 percent support it and 13 percent are undecided.
Chuck Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage, a group supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, doesn't agree with the new poll numbers. He says polling done by his group last year found support at 61 percent. Darrell said the MPR/Pioneer Press poll questions are confusing.
"When you put words like 'never' in there, and then you start putting different options, name off different things that it may or may not, and get away from a simple question of do you want to define marriage as between one man and and one woman, it starts to clouds things," Darrell said. "And that causes some of the numbers to shift."
The MPR/Pioneer Press poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.