Washington, Nov. 7 (AP): Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, while Washington state and Colorado set up a showdown with federal authorities by legalising recreational use of marijuana.
The outcomes for those ballot measures on Tuesday were a milestone for persistent but often thwarted advocacy groups and activists who for decades have pressed the causes of gay rights and drug decriminalisation.
“Today the state of Washington looked at 70 years of marijuana prohibition and said it’s time for a new approach,” said Alison Holcomb, manager of the campaign that won passage of Initiative 502 in Washington state.
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed legalisation, was less enthused. “Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly,” he said.
The results in Maine and Maryland broke a 32-state streak, dating to 1998, in which gay marriage had been rebuffed by every state that voted on it. They will become the seventh and eighth states to allow same-sex couples to marry.
In Massachusetts, where assisted suicide was on the ballot, supporters of a question legalising physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill conceded defeat on Wednesday morning, even though the vote was too close to call.
A spokesperson for the Death With Dignity Act campaign said in a statement that “regrettably, we fell short”. Massachusetts could have become the third state to allow terminally ill patients to get help from their doctors to end their lives with lethal doses of medication.
In another gay-rights victory, Minnesota voters defeated a conservative-backed amendment that would have placed a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution. Similar measures have been approved in 30 other states, most recently in North Carolina in May. Even though the amendment was defeated, same-sex marriage remains illegal in Minnesota under statute.
“The tide has turned — when voters have the opportunity to really hear directly from loving, committed same-sex couples and their families, they voted for fairness,” said Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, a California-based gay rights group. “Those who oppose the freedom to marry for committed couples are clearly on the wrong side of history.”
Washington state also voted on a measure to legalise same-sex marriage, though results were not expected until Wednesday at the soonest.
The outcomes of the marriage votes could influence the US Supreme Court, which will soon consider whether to take up cases challenging the law that denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages. The gay-rights victories come on the heels of numerous national polls that, for the first time, show a majority of Americans supporting same-sex marriage. President Barack Obama declared his support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage earlier this year.
Maine’s referendum marked the first time that gay-rights supporters put same-sex marriage to a popular vote. In Maryland and Washington, gay-marriage laws were approved by lawmakers and signed by the governors this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to challenge the laws.
The president of the most active advocacy group opposing same-sex marriage, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, insisted Tuesday's results did not mark a watershed moment.
“At the end of the day, we’re still at 32 victories,” he said. “Just because two extreme blue states vote for gay marriage doesn’t mean the Supreme Court will create a constitutional right for it out of thin air.” “Blue states” is a term used to refer to Democratic-leaning states.
Heading into the election, gay marriage was legal in six states and the District of Columbia — in each case the result of legislation or court orders, not by a vote of the people.
The marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington will likely pose a headache for the US Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which consider pot an illegal drug.
Colorado’s Amendment 64 will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana, though using the drug publicly would be banned. The amendment would allow people to grow up to six marijuana plants in a private, secure area.
Washington state’s measure establishes a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and stores, where adults can buy up to an ounce. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.
The Washington measure was notable for its sponsors and supporters, who ranged from public health experts and wealthy high-tech executives to two former top Justice Department’s officials in Seattle, US attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer.
Estimates show pot taxes could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but the sales won’t start until state officials make rules to govern the legal weed industry.
In all, 176 measures were on the ballots in 38 states.