US states legalize marijuana, gay marriage
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK/MILWAUKEE
EPA photoUS states backed legalizing marijuana for recreational use, allowing gay marriage and rejected a call to ban public funding for abortions, in a swathe of state-wide ballots Tuesday, AFP reported.
The generally liberal moves were decided among more than 170 ballot initiatives and referendums held across the country, as it re-elected Democratic President Barack Obama for four more years. Obama came out in favor of gay marriage months before the election which pitted him against Republican rival Mitt Romney, who insists that marriage should be reserved for a relationship between a man and a woman.
During his first four-year term Obama had also fulfilled a pledge to repeal the controversial Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) law banning openly gay servicemen and women from serving in the US military. Three states voted Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage, including Maine -- which voted in a referendum against it in 2009, but reversed that decision with 54 percent in favor to 46 percent against.
Maryland voters approved same-sex marriage, while similar measures in Maine and Washington state also appeared on track to pass, marking the first time marriage rights have been extended to same-sex couples by popular vote, Reuters reported.
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.
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.
Six states, as well as the District of Columbia, previously expanded marriage rights to include same-sex couples. In Massachusetts, Iowa and Connecticut, the laws followed court rulings that found same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry. Legislatures brought on the change in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire.
Before this year, ballot initiatives banning the legal recognition of same-sex marriage had succeeded in 31 states, and no state had ever approved same-sex marriage by popular vote.
In Washington and Maryland, where the state legislatures previously passed laws expanding marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples, it was up to citizens to decide whether to let the laws stand.
Same-sex marriage is not federally recognized, but it was already legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia. It is constitutionally banned in 31 states.
Additionnaly, Wisconsin Democratic Representative Tammy Baldwin made history with her election to become the first openly gay U.S. Senator, defeating former Governor Tommy Thompson in the most expensive Senate race in state history.
Meanwhile three states, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, voted on proposals to legalize marijuana including for recreational use, going further than a number of states which already allow it for medicinal purposes.
Colorado on Tuesday become the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use, in defiance of federal law, Reuters reported.
Seventeen other states, plus the District of Columbia, already have medical marijuana laws on their books.
Under the measures in Colorado and Washington, personal possession of up to 28.5 grams of marijuana would be legal for anyone at least 21 years of age. Oregon's initiative would legalize possession of unlimited amounts of pot for recreational use.
But legalization puts the states in conflict with the federal government, which classifies cannabis as an illegal narcotic.