The divisive vote on same-sex marriage could be an indicator into how some parts of the state are changing politically.
The same-sex marriage debate has deeply divided parts of the state, including Olmsted County in southeastern Minnesota. In November, voters there were evenly split on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman: 49 percent supported the amendment and 49.6 percent opposed it.
Last year's vote on the marriage amendment was a watershed that Nora Dooley, chair of the Olmsted County Human Rights Commission, says helped her understand Rochester's changing social and political views.
"Before, I would have thought we would have had a 75-25 (split)," Dooley said. "The mere fact that we had it so close tells me that things are changing from what used to be, in my opinion, ultra-conservative part of the state. I think we are kind of becoming more urbanized."
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In Rochester, Dooley sits outside Mayo Clinic's towering Gonda building on a recent afternoon. Doctors in lab coats crisscross the plaza. Bells ring from the nearby carillon tower.
While Mayo Clinic does not take official positions on political issues, Dooley attributes some of the clinic's policies to the city's changing landscape.
For instance, Dooley said Mayo Clinic employees appear more willing to make their personal political views public, including support for same-sex marriage. Last year, a handful of doctors publicly opposed the marriage amendment. In 2000, Mayo started offering domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. A decade later, Rochester joined a handful of other Minnesota cities that allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners.
"In some ways, the transformation might have been slow in coming," Dooley said. "But maybe the amendment coming forward was actually maybe a good thing in a way because it got what I think is a silent majority here to stand up and say, 'No, we really want to have equality for everyone.' "
That transformation has happened in Rochester, but parts of rural Olmsted County remain very conservative.
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says the urban-rural divide is much more pronounced in a place like Olmsted County because of Mayo's influence in Rochester. The clinic attracts a large population of high-income professionals who are also highly educated.
"And that demographic group tends to be much more sympathetic to gay marriage than say, rural citizens in the areas surrounding Rochester," Schier said. "There's a bigger contrast between Rochester city and the rural areas in southeastern Minnesota than you would perhaps find in other smaller cities."
In Eyota, just 10 miles east of Rochester, the ladies of the American Legion collected cash and pack goods at the town's annual garage sale this past weekend. Eyota township residents, like Bonny Albers, 73, overwhelmingly voted for the marriage amendment in November.
Albers said she opposes same-sex marriage because of her religious views.
"I think it needed to be looked into a lot longer than it has been and there has to be a better solution," Albers said. "We're going against everything that we've been taught for years and I don't care what they say, it's not in the Bible."
Albers' friend, Dawn Anderson, 81, supports same-sex marriage but knows expressing political views in small towns is not easy.
"I belong to several auxiliary groups -- a hospital auxiliary and legion auxiliary, and then, of course, my church groups -- and actually, we don't do a lot of chit-chatting," Anderson said. "I can't remember in the last month anybody bringing it up."
The marriage amendment was the first real measure that helped people here understand how political views were shifting in this part of the state Anderson said. As Rochester continues to grow, she expects that rural-urban distinction to become even more pronounced for Olmsted County.