Gay Marriage, Marijuana Initiatives Make History

Maryland and Maine approve gay marriage; Colorado and Washington legalize recreational weed.

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Barack Obama wasn't the only one celebrating Tuesday night. Supporters of marijuana legalization and gay marriage also saw big wins on Election Day.

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Gay marriage: The LGBT community saw historic wins across the country Tuesday as voters in Maine and Maryland legalized same-sex marriage and voters in Minnesota defeated an amendment to their state constitution that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Maine became the first state in the nation Tuesday to legalize gay marriage through a citizen-brought initiative and Minnesota was one of the first states to defeat a constitutional amendment backed by the National Organization for Marriage.

[READ: In Four States, Gay Marriage is Hotter than the Presidential Race]

In Washington state, however, the battle wages on. It could be days before Washington residents know if their state allows same-sex unions. With nearly 50 percent of the ballots in, Washington's gay marriage law was leading with 52 percent early Tuesday.

"This is a landmark election for marriage equality and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point in the movement for full citizenship for LGBT people," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Council, a group that works for LGBT equality issues.

"As we celebrate victory tonight we know we have added momentum to ensure that this victory is soon felt in every corner of this country. Poll after poll shows a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality and the numbers continue to grow every single day."

President of the National Organization for Marriage Brian Brown says that the group was spread too thin to defend all of the gay marriage ballot initiatives in the deep blue states. "It was a difficult night," says Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage. "This is a wake-up call to Americans to realize what is at stake. We cannot be outspent six to one and still win. That is what happened last night."

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Marijuana: On Tuesday, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Colorado and Washington's laws, which both passed with about 55 percent of the vote, allow residents to possess up to an ounce of weed if they are over 21.

"The passage of these measures strikes significant blow to federal cannabis prohibition. Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a pro-pot group. "Alcohol prohibition fell when a sufficient number of states enacted legislation repealing the state's alcohol prohibition laws. Today, history begins to repeat itself."

[DEBATE CLUB: Marijuana Regulation Works and Prohibition Fails]

While Coloradans and Washingtonians celebrated the win Tuesday, the ballot initiative could be the start of a showdown between state governments and federal authorities. It's still illegal under the federal law to possess, sell, or grow any amount of marijuana even for medicinal purposes. Federal authorities have been shy to crack down on Colorado and Washington's medical marijuana industries, but a recreational one could be another story. Oregon also attempted to legalize marijuana, but the ballot initiative, which was more liberally written than the others, failed.

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Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at