For the first time, voters have approved gay marriage rights. Three years after they rejected a similar measure, Maine voters have approved a gay-marriage initiative.
Maryland voters also approved a gay marriage measure Tuesday, upholding a law that had been enacted by the state legislature in March. A gay marriage proposal was also leading in Washington State, while a ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated.
Although votes in each of the states was close, the results represent a change from previous years, when opposition among voters to gay marriage was a given. Voters in 32 states had banned same-sex marriages, dating back to 1998.
"This is a landmark election for marriage equality and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point," Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
It is the first time a majority of voters in any state have approved gay marriage. The other states that have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples have done so through legislative or court action.
Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, who had been one of the judges who ruled in favor of gay marriage in that state in 2009, managed to preserve his seat. Iowa voters had ousted three other justices over the issue two years ago.
Other social issues were on the ballot in several other states. Voters in Colorado and Washington state approved measures legalizing marijuana usage for any purpose. A similar proposal was defeated in Oregon.
Massachusetts joined 18 other states in blessing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, while Arkansas voters rejected a similar measure.
Massachusetts voters also considered allowing physicians to assist in suicides for terminally ill patients. The measure appeared headed for defeat.
A majority of voters backed a ban on public funding for abortion in Florida, but the measure fell short of the 60 percent threshold required for passage. Montana voters approved a requirement for parental notification when minors are considering abortion.
Californians rejected a measure to abolish the death penalty, which has not been used in the state since a judge put the practice on hold in 2006. But voters there decided to weaken the state's "three strikes" sentencing requirement to reduce prison overcrowding.
A measure backed by California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to raise both sales and income taxes was approved by voters. He had warned that the state budget would have to be cut by $6 billion if the measure didn't pass.
Brown's proposal had to compete with a tax increase to fund education, which was backed by Molly Munger, an heir to a Berkshire Hathaway fortune. She spent some $44 million on the proposition — one of several examples of millionaires spending freely on ballot measures this year. But Munger's measure was defeated soundly.
California voters also rejected a proposition that would have banned unions from automatically deducting dues from members to fund political activity. Unions have been under considerable political pressure at the state level over the past couple of years. In Michigan, unions failed in their big-money attempt to win constitutional protection for collective bargaining rights.