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Historic ballot measures pass

Nearly six months after President Obama became the first U.S. president to endorse the right of same-sex couples to marry, Maine and Maryland on Tuesday became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage through a ballot measure.

And in Minnesota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- also a first for the U.S. electorate.

(A marriage-equality initiative also appeared before voters in Washington State. As of Thursday afternoon, the NBC News Decision Desk had not made a call on whether this measure was passed or be rejected by voters.) 

“Voters made history [on Tuesday night]. For the first time, marriage equality for all loving couples has been upheld in popular statewide votes,” Justine Sarver, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington D.C. said. 

Marriage equality was just one of several political issues put in the hands of voters during this year’s election. On Election Day, voters in 38 states decided the fate of 176 ballot measures, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

One of the most closely watched ballot measures of this election was an initiative in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved the measure, making them the first U.S. states to legalize the recreational use of the drug. In Oregon, the measure failed with 54% of voters rejecting it.  

Despite the voter-approved measures in Colorado and Oregon, the federal government still prohibits the recreational use of marijuana. The Department of Justice released this statement on the issue:

“The Drug Enforcement Administration’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives and we have no additional comment at this time.”

Other ballot-measure results:
-- Marriage equality was also on the ballot in Washington. Voters there were asked to either uphold or dismiss the state’s marriage-equality law. As of Wednesday morning, state election officials were still counting ballots, but said the measure was passing “easily.”

-- Voters in Maryland upheld the state’s DREAM Act. The law allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Maryland community colleges if they graduate high school in the state and their parents file taxes in Maryland. After completing two years at a community college, the students can then transfer to a state university, while still paying the in-state tuition rate.

-- California’s Prop. 34, a measure making the maximum punishment for murder life in prison without parole, was defeated. Fifty-two percent of voters in California voted against the ballot measure.

-- Oklahoma voted in favor of outlawing affirmative action programs in the state. State Question #759 asked voters whether or not affirmative action programs in the state should be banned, and 59% of voters said “yes.” The ban extends to the state, its agencies, counties, cities, towns, school districts, and other subdivisions.

-- Floridians defeated Amendment 6, a measure that would banned the use of public funds for abortion -- unless it’s performed in order to save a mother’s life. Forty-five percent of the electorate voted to approve the measure, falling short of the 60% required to pass.

-- And voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot initiative that would have amended the state constitution to require voters in future elections to show a government-issued photo ID before voting.