In a major setback to gay rights advocates Maine voters have rejected a law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Gay rights advocates were hoping the northeastern US state would become the first in the country where voters directly approve gay marriage.
In a hard fought referendum that drew a large turnout, 53 percent of voters defeated a law passed by the state legislature in May, while 47 percent voted for the measure, with 87 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday.
Gay marriage opponents cheered when victory became certain minutes after midnight.
"It has all come together tonight and the institution of marriage has been preserved," said Stand for Marriage Maine campaign manager Frank Schubert, in comments carried by the Bangor Daily News.
The outcome from Tuesday's vote made Maine the third US state where voters repealed their local government's move granting same-sex couples the right to marry, following California and Hawaii. Gay marriage has not yet won a popular vote in any US state.
In Washington state, voters seemed on the verge of approving an "everything-but-marriage" referendum granting gays the right to civil unions, with early returns showing a razor-thin margin of 51 percent to 49 percent supporting the expanded status.
Voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan overwhelmingly voted to uphold the city's anti-discrimination law that extends protection to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
The Washington law would namely allow domestic partners to take time off to take care of a sick member of the couple.
"For gay and lesbian Washingtonians and their families, this is a major step forward in assuring that we're all treated equally under the law," said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together, which campaigned for the measure.
"Based on what we've seen, if the numbers continue to hold as they are right now, it's a good result," she told The Seattle Times.
The federal government and most states do not recognize gay marriage.
A minority of states -- a total of five -- that have moved to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples have done so through court rulings or votes in the state legislature.
Those states include Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. New Hampshire will allow gay marriage starting in January.
Maine's state legislature voted for same-sex marriage but the measure was delayed and brought before a popular referendum after a repeal petition effort.
Five other states and the capital Washington grant domestic partnership or civil union rights to gay couples, and another three grant some statewide rights.
The Maine vote came a year after California passed a controversial constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage.
"Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Maine voters stood for equality, but in the end, it wasn't enough," said Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for Protect Maine Equality, the leading group seeking to uphold the same-sex marriage law.
But she vowed the fight would go on.
"We're in this for the long haul. For next week, and next month, and next year -- until all Maine families are treated equally," Connolly said. "Because in the end, this has always been about love and family and that will always be something worth fighting for."
Tuesday saw the lowest number of ballot measures in a decade during an off-year election, with just 26 measures on the ballot in six states, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted.
Maine namely became the third state in the country to pass dispensary provisions easing access to medical marijuana for qualified patients -- after Rhode Island and New Mexico. A total of 13 states permit medical use of the drug.
And the Colorado skiing town of Breckenridge voted by a three-to-one margin to legalize adult possession of marijuana. But holding pot is still considered a crime under state law for individuals without the required medical clearance.