Marriage votes mark 'watershed' moment

By Lisa Keen

Even the most jaded political pundits were stunned by the four victories for marriage equality on the ballot Tuesday.

In an unprecedented vote, Minnesota became the first state to reject a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Maine became the first state to approve a pro-active measure to allow same-sex marriage. And voters in Washington State and Maryland became the first to approve bills passed in their respective legislatures to provide for marriage equality.

And to top it off, the one Iowa justice targeted by anti-gay marriage activists hoping to unseat him during his routine retention vote, held onto his seat.

Fox News commentator Juan Williams called the four votes a "watershed moment" for the marriage equality movement in the United States. Prior to Tuesday, voters in 32 states have passed bans on same-sex marriage.

The votes add Maryland, Maine, and Washington to the list of six states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage.

In Maine voters said Yes on Question 1, which approves a statute allowing same-sex couples to marry. The law will go into effect 30 days after the governor proclaims the results of the election.

In Maryland, Question 6 to ratify the legislature's passage of a marriage equality bill had won easily. Undoubtedly, a key factor behind the win in Maryland was the aggressive effort by the NAACP to convince the state's large African American population to back the measure.

A similar measure in Washington State won, Referendum 74, endorsing passage of a bill by the legislature for marriage equality. Fifty-two percent of the vote was Yes, 48 percent No.

And in perhaps the most astonishing marriage equality victory of the night, voters in Minnesota became the first to reject a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Fifty-one percent voted against Proposed Amendment 1, 48 percent for.

Referring to the vote in Maine, which was reported first, Freedom to Marry National Campaign Director Marc Solomon said it was "hard to overstate the national significance of this vote." Solomon praised Mainers United for Marriage Campaign for its meticulous, three-year-long effort to pass the measure, calling it an "extraordinary effort."

"For years, our opponents have argued that we could not win a majority vote at the ballot. Today, Maine voters proved them wrong, standing up for the Golden Rule and for freedom for all Mainers," said Solomon.

The four marriage victories come just two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court justices consider in private conference whether to take up one or more of several cases testing both a same-sex marriage ban in California and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages approved by any state.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin praised Iowa voters for retaining Justice David Wiggins, who voted with a unanimous state supreme court in 2009 to say the state constitution required that same-sex couples be treated the same as heterosexual couples in the issuance of marriage licenses. Three other state supreme court justices, who were up for routine retention votes in 2010, were ousted by voters.

But this year, said Griffin, "Iowans have made a strong statement for judicial independence and refused to let politics get in the way of judges doing their duty to uphold the law."

Openly gay Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, head of the effort to support for Question 6, praised the community for "crossing party lines, age, race, and faith to stand up for a cause greater than ourselves: the belief that Maryland can and will live up to its full, strong, vibrant potential."

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