Gay marriage won approval from voters in Maine and Maryland and was leading in Washington, marking the first time same-sex unions were approved at the ballot box in the U.S.
The votes, tallied by the Associated Press, illustrate shifting attitudes over extending full legal recognition to homosexual relationships, which remains politically divisive even as it gains broader public support. The election put an end to more than a decade of defeat for same-sex marriage ballot measures, which had been rejected by voters in every state where they appeared.
“This is a very big victory for those who support same-sex marriage,” said David Masci, a senior researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington. “To have voters in two states side with same-sex marriage proponents would have been very unlikely just four years ago.”
At the same time, voters in Minnesota defeated a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Voters rejected the amendment, 51 percent to 48 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.
Gay marriage is now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts in 2004 became the first state to allow same-sex weddings as a result of a ruling by its highest court. Since then, it has been legalized in Iowa, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, and the District of Columbia, in each case because of court rulings or decisions by elected officials.
Thirty-two states have confined marriage to opposite sex couples, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Maryland voters approved the gay marriage proposal 52 percent to 48 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, the AP said. In Maine, the vote passed 53 percent to 47 percent, with 79 percent of precincts reporting.
Opponents argued marriage is by definition between a man and a woman, and that same-sex weddings will have negative effects on society, families and children. They say children do best when raised by a mother and father.
There has been growing public support for allowing homosexuals to marry, with about half of Americans in favor of it, according to national polls. Barack Obama, a Democrat, this year became the first president to endorse the unions, shifting from the position he held during his 2008 campaign.
Same-sex marriage advocates drew from wealthy backers, including Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Bezos and Elliott Management Corp. President Paul Singer. The opposition was led by the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington-based group that sees it as an assault on tradition and religious values.
In Washington and Maryland, the issue was put on the ballot by opponents seeking to overturn laws approving same-sex marriage that were signed by the states’ Democratic governors. In Maine, proponents gathered signatures to put a measure on the ballot.