Altering the course of U.S social policy, 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 legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
The outcomes for those ballot measures 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 decriminalization.
"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.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed legalization, was less enthused. "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish 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 another gay-rights victory, Minnesota voters defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state. Similar measures were approved in 30 other states, most recently in North Carolina in May.
"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."