(by Keith J. Winstein, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – Maine voters rejected a law allowing same-sex couples to marry in a closely fought referendum that saw unexpectedly high turnout.

Rolling back the law is a setback for gay-rights advocates and makes Maine the third state in which residents reversed their government’s decision to permit gay marriages, after California and Hawaii.

Same-sex marriage has yet to win a popular vote in any state, despite a recent string of wins in the New England region. The other states that grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont — have done so via legislative vote or judicial ruling, and New Hampshire will grant such marriages starting in January after a vote by its legislature. The federal government and most other states don’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Maine currently grants domestic-partnership status to same-sex couples, along with about seven other states. The state’s legislature voted in May to allow gays to marry each other, but an opposition petition campaign led the measure’s implementation to be delayed and submitted to a popular referendum Tuesday.

In Washington state, voters appeared poised to approve the expansion of rights granted to gay couples under the state’s domestic-partnership registry.

Earlier this year, the state passed a law to expand domestic partnerships to have the same rights as marriages under state law. Early returns showed 51% approving of the expanded status, compared with 49% who voted to reduce the rights of same-sex domestic partners.

Also Tuesday, Mainers approved a measure to broaden the state’s medical-marijuana law to allow nonprofit organizations to dispense marijuana to the sick.

Write to Keith J. Winstein at keith.winstein@wsj.com.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.


1. Define referendum. (read the “Background” below the questions for the answer)

2. In which states besides Maine have voters reversed the state legislature’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage?

3. Through ballot measures in how many states has same-sex marriage been rejected by the voters? (see “Background” below the question for the answer)

4. In how many states has same-sex marriage become law through a vote of the people?

5. a) Name the states in which same-sex marriage is legal.
b) How has it become legal in these states?

6. The AP reports “Gay marriage has never won at the ballot box in any state.” Why do you think this is so?

7. Were there any ballot measures voted on in your state this year? If so, ask a parent how he/she voted and to explain their choice.
(Visit the iandrinstitute website for the results – scroll down for results by state.)



  • Maine voters have repealed a state law that would have allowed gay couples to marry.
  • With 84 percent of the precincts reporting, 53% were opposed to same-sex marriage, 47% were in favor.
  • The law was passed by the Maine Legislature in May 2009 but never took effect because of a petition drive by conservatives.

SAME SEX MARRIAGE ACROSS THE COUNTRY (from the Initiative and Referendum Institute -iandrinstitute.org/BW%202009-2%20Results%20%28v1%29.pdf)

  • The year’s highest profile issue was Maine’s Question 1 that asked voters to repeal a May law legalizing same-sex marriage. Traditional marriage was victorious, by a 53-47 margin. Following California’s Proposition 8 last year, this marks the second successive repeal of a same sex marriage law by the voters. …
  • Gay marriage has now been rejected in 33 of 34 ballot propositions (with the only exception, in Arizona, reversed two years after the initial vote).
  • Gay marriage has been a hot issue since February 2004 when the supreme court of Massachusetts found a right to same-sex marriage in the state constitution, setting off a backlash across the country, with citizen groups and legislatures rushing to place constitutional amendments on the ballot to head off a similar ruling by courts in their states. (See Ballotwatch Report BW 2008-2, “Same-Sex Marriage: Breaking the Firewall in California?,” available at ballotwatch.org.)
  • So far, the only victories for gay marriage supporters have come from courts and legislatures – the electorate continues to reject the idea of gay marriage. Gay rights supports fared better in the state of Washington, where an attempt to repeal a state law that grants same-sex domestic partners essentially the same rights as married spouses (R-71) appears to be failing, with voters supporting the existing law 51-49. Supporters spent about $2 million during the campaign, compared to about $500,000 by opponents.


  • Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure.  Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums.
  • Initiatives (propositions) – when the citizens, collecting signatures on a petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes (laws) or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or reject. 
  • Twenty-four states have the initiative process. 
  • A referendum is a proposal to repeal a law that was previously enacted by the legislature, and that is placed on the ballot by citizen petition. A total of 24 states permit referendums, most of them states that also permit initiatives.

NOTE:  The terms above are all forms of “direct democracy” practiced by various states.  Read an explanation of direct democracy at Wikipedia.org


For the results of 2009 ballot measures across the country, go to iandrinstitute.org/BW%202009-2%20Results%20%28v1%29.pdf.

Read an explanation of ballot measures (initiatives and referendums) at the Initiative and Referendum website iandrinstitute.org.

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