The controversial issue had been before voters 32 times and had been rejected every time.
The approval was a watershed moment for gay rights activists because while same-sex unions have been legalized in six states and the District of Columbia by lawmakers or courts, voters until Tuesday had consistently rejected the issue. Voters in more than 30 states have approved constitutional bans on gay marriage.
“It’s enormous. We have truly made history,” said Brian Ellner, the head of the pro-gay marriage group The Four. “Having the first states approve marriage by a popular vote changes the narrative and sends an important message to the Supreme Court.”
In Maryland, the gay-marriage measure passed 52 percent to 48 percent, with 93 percent of precincts reporting. In Maine, it was leading by 54 percent to 46 percent, with more than 62 percent of precincts reporting. And in Washington, it was leading by 52 percent to 48 percent, with 61 percent of precincts reporting.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, voters appeared to be leaning against adding that state to the list of those defining marriage solely as a heterosexual union. With more than 78 percent of precincts reporting, the proposed constitutional amendment was trailing 49 percent to 51 percent.
The constitutionality of restricting marriage to unions between a man and a woman is widely expected to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court soon.