Is it all about the word ‘marriage’?

The years have taught me not to overreact to poll results, especially when they are based on novel questions with wording that hasn’t been used over many years.

But if we take seriously two poll results reported in Sunday’s Strib, a huge majority of Minnesotans believe that same-sex couples should have all the same legal rights and responsibilities of opposite-sex married couples, as long as the same-sex version of marriage is called something other than “marriage.”

For the big pre-election poll, the Strib used language directly from the question that will be on the ballot in November: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?” That language was, of course, based on a lot of research and experience in other states about how to get people, who would feel differently if they were asked whether they want to ban same-sex marriage, to vote yes.

Strib poll result: Yes, 49%; No 47%; undecided 4%.

Caveat #1: As you know (but I’ll just remind you one more time) if the result turned out that way on Nov. 6 and the undecideds left the question blank, the amendment would fail, since a constitutional amendment is rejected unless a majority of all those who show up at the polls vote yes.

Caveat #2: Around the country over recent years, when same-sex marriage has been on the ballot, the anti-marriage-equality side has often outperformed the polls.

Caveat #3: The result either way will have no immediate effect on the legal status of same-sex couples in Minnesota. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota. If the amendment is approved, it will simply put the existing law into the state Constitution, making it harder for future generations to change it (since it will require another constitutional amendment) and making it less likely that a state court could strike down the existing law on some version of “equal protection” grounds.

But the interesting thing about the Strib poll was the follow-up question: “If same-sex couples are not allowed to marry, do you support or oppose allowing civil unions that would grant the same legal status as marriage?”

Result: Support: 68 percent; Oppose 23%; Not sure 9%; among Dems 79-11 in favor; among Repubs 55-34 in favor.

So, if we take the poll as accurately reflecting the sentiment of Minnesota voters, an overwhelming majority believe that there should be no substantial legal distinction between the rights and responsibilities of same-sex and opposite-sex couples, but a bare plurality want to maintain a semantic distinction.

In the Strib piece, the poster child for this attitude is 78-year-old retiree Norbert Timm of Minnetonka, who will vote “yes” on the amendment but would also supports full legal equality (except for the use of the M-word) for same sex couples. Said Timm: “Marriage has been marriage for many thousands of years. To change it now to make it into something else, you’d have to be a radical idiot… [but] “civil unions are just another legal thing, that is not trying to change people’s religion or the character of the world.”

So, apparently, a huge majority of Minnesotans favor substantive legal equality for same-sex couples, but a bare plurality may oppose semantic equality.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/24/2012 - 09:19 am.

    Such a tiny gap

    between separate and equal.

  2. Submitted by Robert Perschmann on 09/24/2012 - 11:02 am.


    It’s all so tiresome to me. Of course sexual preference should have ZERO to do with whom you live with and or love… no matter what it is called. Of course it helps society to have a sign-up for designated partner. It’s probably wise for us to have equal rights for more than one designated partner. You pays for your license according to its cost to society. Maybe more than one designated partner will cost more for the state to “regulate.” For that matter sex and children really should have nothing to do with it. It should be more of a designation of what constitutes a “family” or partnership. I get so sick of the jabber about the word marriage and the desire of religions to regulate marriage. The big deal is not marriage. The big deal is individual sincerity about the partnership in question. The big deal is being humane and dedicated partners.

    We probably all agree that domestic partnership is enhanced by a legal contract. The point is that heterosexuals have NO advantage coming to them. They have no business evaluating non-heterosexuals. Individual cults, …I mean religions, are free to develop their own partnership system. They can call it marriage or they can call it “God’s permit to proceed with preferred domestic arrangements.” Religions can require each participant to give birth to any number of children… and to any number of household pets, as long as they do so lawfully.

    Discrimination against Non-heterosexuals is ALWAYS WRONG… just as discrimination against
    cowboys, lawyers, bowlers, and dancing fools is always wrong. Let’s get over fear and hate. Let’s get over the idea that one’s religion is supreme and lawfully the highest authority. It’s not and never will be.

    I think that a license to raise children makes much more sense than all this marriage talk. Of course the “Hetero-marriagists” will claim that marriage includes the license to procreate. I would say, no… we just allow everyone to procreate without question.

    I engaged in traditional “marriage” forty years ago. We asked the judge to put his bible back in his drawer and sign our certificate without comment. The immediate issue was securing medical insurance. The commitment to each other was personal, private, and sincere. Our partnership shows every sign of continuing until death. It’s purely coincidental… though we do take credit for choosing each other carefully.

    All of this is so immature. When do we grow up and focus on serious issues?

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/24/2012 - 11:08 am.

    Not sure

    … about “…character of the world,” which grants Minnesota an influence all out of proportion with the state’s population, but Mr. Tims reflects a common misunderstanding – happily reinforced by forces on the right, of course – of the effects of same-sex marriage on someone’s religion. No one’s religion is affected by same-sex marriage. No church is required to perform a marriage ceremony between two people of the same sex now, nor would that be imposed in the future, regardless of the election outcome for the proposed amendment. As far as I know, popular vote is not – never has been – the basis for religious belief.

    It IS an interesting reflection on the importance of language that the same rights and responsibilities are OK with a much larger segment of the population, as long as the “M” word isn’t attached to the issue, and James Hamilton’s point is well-taken.
    That said, I’m on board with all three of Eric’s caveats.

    I’d only add that, while state courts might well be less likely to accept an “equal protection” argument, doing so would be a blatant example of a singular failure to provide that constitutionally-mandated equal protection. The existing law and the proposed amendment both strike me as examples of singling out a group in the population, strictly on the basis of private behavior and preference, and then denying that group equal treatment under the law. I’m sure there are many dozens of lawyers, not to mention a couple of regular MinnPost commenters, who’d disagree with me, but that’s my take on it.

  4. Submitted by Patrick M on 09/24/2012 - 12:24 pm.

    Marriage Amendment

    Then even if the amendment passes, all would be needed is to pass a technical amendment in the legislature (majority vote) to strip any reference to “marriage” from statute and replace it with the words “civil union” and everyone would get what they want.

    Proponents of gay marriage would receive the equal legal protections they deserve while those believing religions should be able to define “marriage” would have the word all to themselves.

    Of course, this presumes that the amendment proponents really mean it when they say they love their gay brothers and sisters and are not attempting to discriminate against anyone, something I suspect is preposterous. But let’s put that to the test with this proposal.

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