While Barack Obama’s re-election drew the spotlight Tuesday night, causes championed by his Democratic Party also made history gains in statewide initiatives.
Maryland and Maine became the first states in which voters chose to legalize same-sex marriage while Washington state and Colorado appear to have become the first to pass measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
Previously, voters in 32 states had supported traditional marriage.
The marijuana initiatives set up a clash with the federal government, which has banned recreational use.
The initiatives were among 176 measures on the ballots Tuesday in 38 states, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
Maine’s same-sex marriage initiative was passing by more than 5 percentage points with nearly half the state’s precincts reporting. The vote was a reversal of 2009’s choice by voters to overturn the Legislature’s same-sex marriage law 53 percent to 47 percent.
In Maryland, voters approved a law signed March 1 by Gov. Martin O’Malley. The law was put to a vote when citizens submitted more than 100,000 signatures.
Maine and Maryland join the District of Columbia and six other states in allowing same-sex couples to obtain a civil marriage license.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, an initiative to approve a same-sex marriage law passed by the Legislature was winning 51.8 to 48.2 percent, with half a million votes left to be counted in left-leaning King County.
The Maryland law exempts clergy from having to provide any services, benefits or goods to same-sex couples. However, there is no similar protection to Christian business owners who provide services such as photography or wedding cakes.
In Washington state, an initiative making it legal to possess an ounce of marijuana held a strong lead in King County and was passing in other urban areas.
The initiative will allow the state to regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales at state-licensed retail shops.
The Denver Post last night called the passage of a similar measure in Colorado, which led 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent with more than 50 percent of active voters counted, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
The Post reported the ballot measure to amend the state constitution has fostered a national discussion about marijuana policy.
Supporters, the paper said, hope approval would place pressure on the federal government to end marijuana prohibition everywhere.
Opponents contend the law will make Colorado a destination for drug tourists and prompt a federal crackdown.
Jonathan Caulkins, a Carnegie Mellon University professor whose research focuses on marijuana legalization, called the measure “unprecedented,” saying it would put Colorado “to the left of the Netherlands when it comes to marijuana policy.”
Medical marijuana already is permitted in 17 states, and Massachusetts became the 18th. The Boston Globe reported that with 49 percent of the vote counted, 63 percent had voted in favor of the measure, with 37 percent against.
Just over one year ago, a Gallup poll showed support for legalization of marijuana at 50 percent, the highest since Gallup began asking the question in 1970.
Legalize assisted suicide
A fiercely fought measure that would make Massachusetts the third state to approve assisted suicide was too close to call, failing 51 percent to 49 percent with nearly half of polls reporting, the Boston Globe reported.
The initiative would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with medication prescribed by a physician.
A Boston Globe poll in September showed voters overwhelmingly supported the measure, but support eroded, the paper said, as religious leaders, antiabortion activists and conservatives funded television advertisements and held church services.
In Florida, voters defeated a measure that would amend the state constitution to limit abortion rights and bar public funds from supporting the procedure.
Just 44 percent of voters backed Amendment 6, the Associated Press reported, while 60 percent was needed for it to pass.
The measure would have prevented state employees from using their health care coverage for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is threatened.
Previously, a “personhood” amendment in Oklahoma determining life begins at conception was rejected by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
Florida voters rejected a wide-ranging property tax relief proposal.
Amendment 4 garnered just 43 percent of the vote with most ballots counted Tuesday, falling short of the 60 percent needed.
It featured a 5 percent annual assessment cap for businesses and second homes and an additional exemption for first-time primary home buyers.
Local officials contended it would cut services and raise taxes for those who don’t benefit from it.
In Maryland, voters approved a measure that allows for a casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.
Supporters argued the initiative would prevent Maryland from losing money to neighboring states and increase revenue.
Opponents pointed to studies show that casinos generate jobs, but also tend to increase crime, bankruptcy and mental illness in local communities.