Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 09:55 by PA
Voters on opposite sides of the US made history today on two divisive social issues, with Maine becoming the first state to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote and Washington state becoming the first to legalise recreational marijuana use.
The outcome in Maine broke a 32-state streak, dating back to 1998, in which gay marriage had been rebuffed by every state that voted on it.
Maryland also voted to legalise same-sex marriage, while Minnesota voters were considering a conservative-backed amendment that would place a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution
The marijuana measure in Washington sets up a showdown with the federal government, which outlaws the drug. The measure establishes a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, where adults over 21 can buy up to an ounce. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.
Estimates have shown that pot taxes could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but the sales will not start until state officials make rules to govern the industry.
The outcomes of similar measures on recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Oregon were uncertain.
In Massachusetts, voters approved a measure to allow marijuana use for medical reasons, joining 17 other states. Arkansas voters were deciding on a similar measure that would make it the first Southern state in that group.
Maine's referendum on same-sex marriage marked the first time that gay-rights supporters put the issue to a popular vote. They collected enough signatures over the summer to schedule the vote, hoping to reverse the outcome of a 2009 referendum that quashed a gay-marriage law enacted by the state Legislature.
In both Maryland and Washington, gay-marriage laws were approved by politicians and signed by the governors earlier this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to challenge the laws.
In Minnesota, the question was whether the state would join 30 others in placing a ban on gay marriage in its constitution. Even if the ban is defeated, same-sex marriage would remain illegal in Minnesota under statute.
Gay marriage is legal in six states and Washington, D.C. - in each case the result of legislation or court orders, not by a vote of the people.
In California, voters were deciding whether to repeal the state's death penalty. If the measure prevailed, the more than 720 inmates on death row there would have their sentences converted to life in prison.
While 17 states have ended capital punishment, most did so through legislative action. Only in Oregon, in 1964, did voters choose to repeal the death penalty; they later reversed themselves to reinstate it.
In all, there were 176 measures on the ballots in 38 states.