Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote Tuesday, while Washington state and Colorado set up a showdown with federal authorities by voting to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
The outcomes for those ballot measures were milestones 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 state.
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 weddings.
In Massachusetts, where assisted suicide was on the ballot, supporters conceded defeat Wednesday morning, even though the vote was too close to call.
A spokesman for the Death with Dignity Act campaign said in a statement that "regrettably, we fell short." Massachusetts could have become the third state to allow terminally ill patients to get help from their doctors to end their lives with lethal doses of medication.
In California, voters turned down a chance to repeal the death penalty.
In another gay-rights victory, Minnesota voters defeated a conservative-backed amendment that would have placed a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution. Similar measures have been approved in 30 other states, most recently in North Carolina in May. Even though the amendment was defeated, same-sex marriage remains illegal in Minnesota.
"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."
Washington state also voted on a measure to legalize same-sex marriage, though results were not expected until Wednesday at the soonest.
In all, 176 measures were on the ballots in 38 states, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
-- The Associated Press