Same-Sex Marriage Wins At The Ballot Box

Voters in four states endorsed marriage equality yesterday.

Going all the way back to 2004, opponents of same-sex marriage were able to use ballot initiatives and amendments to state Constitutions to impose bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions in the vast majority of states across the country. At the same time, six states and the District of Columbia have implemented same-sex marriage either via Court ruling or legislative action, but the opponents of marriage equality countered each of those advancements by arguing that their position was the one supported by the majority of voters as evidenced by the success they had at the ballot box, most recently just this past May in North Carolina. All of that was true, until last night when marriage equality was victorious in all of the states in which it was on the ballot:

Americans for the first time approved gay marriage at the ballot box on Tuesday, pointing to changing attitudes on the divisive issue.

In Maine and Maryland, voters approved ballot initiatives to begin allowing same-sex unions. Those wins mark a first for a cause that had previously been rejected by voters in more than 30 states, including as recently as 2009 in Maine.

And in Minnesota, where gay marriage is already not allowed, voters declined to back an initiative that would enshrine in the state’s constitution a definition of marriage permitting only a union between a man and woman.

In Washington state, where voters also weighed an initiative to legalize gay marriage, the vote count was expected to stretch on for days. With half of the vote counted as of 3 a.m. Eastern time, nearly 52% supported the idea.

 The Seattle Times says this about the Washington initiative:

In what will surely go down as a historic night for same-sex marriage, voters in Washington and two other states were approving measures to permit gays to marry — ending a 30-plus state losing streak at the ballot box.

With the vote count still incomplete, Washington’s Referendum 74 was ahead with 52 percent of the votes.

If it’s ultimately successful, same-sex couples could apply for marriage licenses as early as Dec. 6.


With about 60 percent of the votes counted in Washington, Ref. 74 was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent.

Given the trend in that state, I’d be surprised if the remaining 40% of the vote were sufficient enough to defeat the measure, meaning that marriage equality would have won in four states on one day, and that same-sex marriage would be legal in three more states by the end of this year. All of this at the same time that the Supreme Court is poised to take on landmark cases dealing with both the Defense Of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, which narrowly passed just four years ago to overturn a California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

I don’t believe that the importance of these victories can be overstated. As of today, the opponents of marriage equality can no longer argue that their position is the one that has the support of the majority of voters and that same-sex marriage only wins when it is imposed from above either by a Court or a Legislature. The people of three states have voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and the people of a fourth state have rejected the very type of Constitutional Amendment that had been the bread and butter of the “traditional marriage” crowd for years. This was the argument that was used in Maryland, for example, where the state legislature had legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year and opponents of the law used the state’s initiative process to place the matter on the ballot in the belief that they would be able to defeat it via a combination of the Catholic vote in the state and opposition to same-sex marriage from several of the state’s more outspoken African-American ministers. They failed, as did the people in Minnesota who sought to follow in the footsteps of many of their sister states by absurdly enshrining a definition of marriage in their state Constitution.

To a large degree, this is a reflection of the fact that public opinion on this issue has changed drastically since 2004 when a record number of amendments similar to the one that was on the ballot in Minnesota yesterday passed and, some say, helped George W. Bush win states like Ohio. In eight short years we’ve gone from overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage to a world where, according to the most recent polls, a majority of Americans support it. It’s a slim majority at the moment, to be sure, but the gap between supporters and opponents is growing and it won’t be long before the supporters of same-sex marriage are as large a portion of the electorate as opponents were in 2004. What this suggests, of course, is that the era of where opponents of same-sex marriage where able to use the initiative process to block marriage equality is coming to an end. It’s a strategy that likely would still work in the South, but those states already have marriage bans anyway. Outside of there, though, I’m thinking it’s not going to work any more. Possible future targets for legalization of same-sex marriage in the future include Oregon, New Jersey (where a recent poll showed a majority of voters support it), New Mexico, and Delaware. In other words, even if the Courts resist, change is coming on this issue slowly but surely.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    These are the races that kept me up till 1:30 this morning. It’s a step in the right direction. The Supreme Court is the next step.

  2. Franklin says:


  3. Fiona says:

    The tide has begun to turn, far faster than I ever expected. Hooray!

  4. @Vast Variety:

    I agree but I think there’s something tremendously important about SSM being adopted in a democratic manner in this way. It helps speed along the day when the public as a whole becomes more accepting of these relationships, I believe

  5. mike says:

    A step in the right direction. We should be promoting long term stable relationships, not making them illegal. Republican party, take note.

  6. Scott says:

    I think the passage of these measures not only indicate an evolution of thought in this country about marriage equality and other issues but demonstrates that this election may have been decided by a major pushback against the tea party/religious right who have dominating the conversation for years. People are just sick of them.

  7. Vast Variety says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Maybe, but putting someone’s rights up to a popular vote just screams out as being wrong to me; but I see what your saying.

  8. Rob in CT says:

    First it was oh you can’t just win in the courts, you need to do it via the legislature. Then legislatures started oking it, and it became oh you need to win referrendums. And now those have started to work.

    There’s nowhere else for the goalposts to move.

  9. Facebones says:

    Even though I think it is farcical to put human rights up for a vote, I am glad that voters in 4 states did the right thing.

    I’ve said before that by 2020 gay marriage will be legal in 49 states, with only Utah as a holdout.

  10. Herb says:

    Ta-Neihisi Coates puts it as only he can:

    The conservative movement has long counted on a critical mass of homophobes to thwart the attempt of gays and lesbians to form family. Civil rights should not be subject to a ballot measure. But no matter. Tonight in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, the movement for marriage equality took on its opponents, on their field, under their rules and defeated them.

    It really is amazing how quickly the gay marriage thing is crumbling under their feet. It’s kind of weird to think of it as the all-consuming thing it used to be. Ah, the perils of overreach.

  11. Scott says:

    @Herb: Not only overreach but, like DADT, it turns out that all the dire warnings and sound and fury about society declining are just big nothings.

  12. wr says:

    @Facebones: Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Utah turned before Alabama and Mississippi. One thing about the Mormon church — they know what’s good for business, and I suspect they’ll see they have to adapt or get shut out of the future. That’s never been a problem in the deep South, where it’s eternally 1859…

  13. Gromitt Gunn says:

    After last night, my educated guess is that we will see a couple of states every year or two legalize same-sex marriage over the next decade, until we hit enough of a critical mass where a Loving v Virginia ruling becomes inevitable. I also think that DOMA Section 3 will be overturned this session, allowing the IRS, Social Security Administration, OPM, etc., to recognize same-sex marriages. I feel less optimistic about Prop 8 being overturned, although since the fact pattern of the case is more about using the referendum process to deny a civil right already on the books rather than legalizing something new may be compelling.

    I agree with you, Doug, on the states that would seem fertile ground for the next wave of legalization. My gut (since I don’t have polling to go on yet 😉 ) thinks that Nevada, Colorado, Hawai’i, Pennsylvania and one or more states in the Upper Midwest (MN or IL seem most likely) would be likely additions in 5 to 10 years.

    The one thing that I don’t feel super positive about is how many states will need to ratify before the Supreme Court follows the route it followed with Loving.

  14. Brett says:


    Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Utah turned before Alabama and Mississippi. One thing about the Mormon church — they know what’s good for business, and I suspect they’ll see they have to adapt or get shut out of the future.

    As a Utahn, I do think we’ll be laggards on this, but you’re probably right about flipping before some of the Deep South. The Mormon Church is really opposed to gay marriage, but they’re also wary about a situation where they might end up being singled out as “weird” again, possibly hurting conversions in the US. If that starts happening, they’ll back off the issue in public while still likely keeping the “marriage is between man and woman” stance.

    That said, I think we won’t have to wait until Utahns change our minds. Sooner or later, there will be enough support in Congress to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and maybe pass a law protecting gay marriage rights. That could come before Utah flips its law.

  15. Mr. Replica says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:


    It really depends on how long it takes before the state elects another governor like a Ed Rendell.
    Right now we have a state legislature with a republican majority and a republican governor at the helm. Most of whom (including the governor) were elected in the infamous 2010 wave that swept through the nation.

  16. Dave Anderson says:

    All I know is that last night at the election watch party, is that the two gay/lesbian couples that were with us, good friends of mine who have been together for as long or longer than my wife and I have been married broke down and started crying when Maine was called for gay marriage.

    I don’t think Pennsylvania is a good target yet, give the state another six years for the bigots to either convert or die off, and then try it if the Supreme Court has not thrown DOMA out on its ass.

  17. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Mr. Replica: I don’t see it happening in PA until a few years after it happens in NJ and DE. It just takes enough white retirees on fixed incomes with limited mobiity figuring out that they would be much more likely to see their grandkids on a regular basis if their gay children didn’t have to live in an adjoining state to get married and raise a family.

  18. mantis says:

    Dominos falling. Progress. Wonderful.

  19. stonetools says:

    I expect next year the US Supreme Court will overturn DOMA, Kennedy writing for the majority. After that , marriage equality will gradually become the law of the land, everywhere except the solidly backward South, and in the teeth of opposition from Dr. Joyner’s team.

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Dave Anderson: Oh, definitely. As Doug noted, Oregon, Delaware, and New Jersey are the most fertile ground. He also listed New Mexico – I would say Rhode Island before New Mexico, as it is now the lone New England hold out, but I think those five states are the next chunk, all in under 5 years. PA, CO, and NV, with some combination of IL, WI, MN and/or MI are probably in the chunk after that, 5 to 10 yers out.

  21. Lynn says:

    “same-sex marriage” or, as I like to think of it, marriage equality.

  22. grumpy realist says:

    We’ve got civil unions here in Illinois already. I think of it as baby steps. (enshrine civil unions into law, note lack of disasters to hetrosexual marriages occuring. Moan and piss about the legal problems that civil unions have, go for marriage.)

    It would be nice if the Supreme Court did a Loving, but the more we get to nibble at the restrictions via the popular vote, the more the anti-SSM clowns come off as freakin’ reactionaries.