By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With just a year until next year’s election, a new poll shows a dramatic divide in Minnesota on gay marriage.

In 2012, voters will go to the polls and will have to decide if they want to vote in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

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A new Star Tribune-Minnesota Poll shows that 48 percent of Minnesotans favor the ban, while 43 percent are against it. But when you factor in the margin of error of 4.4 percent, it is almost a dead heat.

Both sides of the issue are already gearing up for a battle that could have a profound effect on other elections as well.

The emotional protests from both sides that were seen at the legislature last spring were just the beginning. A year before a vote on the proposed ban, both sides are getting ready.

“We are defending marriage because we think it is an important public institution. It’s not just about private decisions, it’s about public commitments and public institutions that are good for society as a whole,” said Jason Adkins with the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Supporters of the ban, including the group Minnesota for Marriage, have taken to the Internet and social networking sites.

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On Wednesday, U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, a critic of the proposed ban, will hold an LBGT town hall meeting in Hopkins that will focus in part on defeating the amendment.

“I’m going to be working really, really hard to maximize the vote right here in the 5th District,” said Ellison. “At the end of the day, not matter how people feel, they don’t want people telling them who they can be with.”

Among voters over 65, the Minnesota Poll found that 70 percent say they will vote for the ban. But among Minnesotans under 35, only 33 percent say they will support the ban, while 58 percent are against it.

Political analysts say that would appear to be good news for those who favor the ban.

“One of the iron rules of elections is that older people turn out in much higher rates than younger people,” said Professor Larry Jacobs. “The question is whether the gay marriage amendment is going to push turnout among younger people who are particularly opposed to it above what they would normally turnout.”

There have been almost 30 votes in the past decade on this same issue in other states. From California to Alabama, the votes have all gone in favor of a ban on gay marriage.

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There is a technicality in the law that makes it tougher to pass amendments in Minnesota. If a voter skips the amendment question, it counts as a no vote, which is another unpredictable factor.

Esme Murphy