The successful ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State on November 6, 2012, were major victories for gay rights both in the United States and globally.
“The three state referendums endorsing marriage equality are groundbreaking because nowhere else in the world has same-sex marriage been won by a popular vote,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “All other marriage-equality measures in the US and elsewhere have been made by legislators or courts.”
In Maryland, voters upheld a law legalizing same-sex marriage that was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. This means that, most likely beginning January 1, 2013, same-sex couples will be able to get married in the state.
In Washington State, the legislature had approved same-sex marriage, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum in an effort to ban it. The referendum vote means that civil marriage will be opened for same-sex couples.
In Maine, gay rights activists had lost a vote on same-sex marriage in 2009, but put the issue on the ballot again. This year they were successful.
Additionally, voters in Minnesota turned back an effort to restrict gay rights. They rejected a proposed marriage equality ban by voting “no” in a referendum seeking to amend the state constitution to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.
The election results in Maine, Washington, and Maryland reversed a trend, Human Rights Watch said. Previously, whenever same-sex marriage had been put before voters in US states, it had lost. In 30 states voters have limited marriage to a man and a woman through constitutional amendments, and same-sex marriage had also been blocked in referendums, as it was in California in 2008.
Same-sex marriage will now be legal in nine US states. The others are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, as well as Washington, DC. However, under the Defense of Marriage Act, the US government denies recognition of same-sex marriages and federal benefits that are conferred upon married couples.
Outside the US, same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Mexico (where same-sex marriages are allowed in the capital city, but are recognized nationwide). In Spain the Constitution Court decided on November 6, 2012, that the same-sex marriage bill, implemented in 2005, is constitutional. In Brazil, the Superior Justice Court set an important precedent in October 2011 by interpreting the Brazilian civil code as allowing same-sex marriages.
Marriage equality laws are expected to be adopted soon in France, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
“Marriage equality is unstoppable,” Dittrich said. “The votes in these US states should galvanize initiatives around the world.”