UPDATED (2:26 a.m.)—Same-sex marriage is the law in Maryland.
The passage of the controversial law was the biggest win among a list of six other statewide ballot questions including the DREAM Act, expanded gambling and congressional redistricting that all also passed.
Gov. Martin O'Malley took to the podium to address the Question 6 victory party at The Soundstage in Baltimore early Wednesday to chants of his last name.
O'Malley thanked the crowd for all they had done "in this noble battle to move Maryland Forward."
The governor praised supporters for all their hard work and for securing support for the controversial ballot question by talking to their families and their religious institutions.
"You were carrying this banner of human dignity in this important question forward," O’Malley said.
Maryland and Maine voters approved same-sex marriages during Tuesday's election breaking a streak of 32 consecutive defeats of the issue on the ballots in other states.
Washington voters also voted on legalizing same-sex marriage Tuesday. Minnesota voted on whether to approve or reject a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that her decision to back marriage equality was not difficult to make when it was primarily a fight being taken up by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"This is not a fight for me and my right but for the rights I want for all Marylanders. This vote would not change what I would be able to do, but it would change the path for our future and it would mean for my daughter… that my daughter would grow up in a state that would recognize and fairness and dignity”
As of 12:30 a.m., voters in favor of same-sex marriage lead those against 51 percent to 49 percent with more than 90 percent of the vote counted, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Maryland joins six other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex unions. Gay couples can begin marrying in Maryland on Jan. 1.
Supporters of same-sex marriage said it's a civil rights issue that comes down to equal treatment for all.
"It makes sense to me for these people to have their rights…even though my church doesn’t believe in it," said Anne Quinn, 62, at the Stone Mill Elementary School polling place in North Potomac.
Opponents countered that it's about protecting the sanctity of marriage.
"The Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman," said Melvin Smith, 68, at the Northwood Elementary School polling place in Baltimore. "I don't want gay marriage out in the open like they've been campaigning for. I don't care if they're together, but they should keep it to themselves."
All night the vote ran neck and neck despite the fact that just six jurisdictions have voted in favor of the question in returns counted so far. Frederick County joins five of the so-called "Big Seven" jurisdictions—Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, and Baltimore City—in voting in favor of same-sex marriage.
Remaining "Big Seven" counties–Harford and Prince George's—voted against the measure.
The question was lost in the other 16 jurisdictions.
Though polls leading up to the election showed a healthy margin of success for the ballot measure, supporters were nervous that those numbers wouldn’t carry through to the results — a common problem in other states where same-sex marriage failed when put to a popular vote. But Gov. Martin O’Malley said Obama's support of the issue and his popularity in Maryland would help carry it through.
Late Tuesday afternoon, O'Malley sent supporters an email expressing concern for a close vote on the issue. In that email, he urged supporters to come out and vote in favor of Question 6.
"We can still win, but every vote is going to matter," O'Malley wrote in the email.
Expanded gambling proved to be another close contest on the statewide referendum ballot Maryland but ultimately appears to have passed.
With more than 90 percent of the precincts reporting, voters for and against the issue were split 52 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The approval clears the way for a sixth casino, possibly at National Harbor in Prince George's County, and table games.
Campaigns on both sides spent more than $92 million trying to convince voters that the new tax revenue either will or will not go towards education—the most expensive campaign in state history.
Three companies provided the bulk of financing for proponents of Question 7. MGM Resorts International has contributed $40.8 million to For Maryland Jobs & Schools, the main committee in favor of expansion. MGM would be positioned to run the casino at National Harbor.
Other big contributors included CBAC Gaming (led by Caesars Entertainment) and The Peterson Companies. CBAC, which plans to open Harrah’s Baltimore Casino in mid-2014 has contributed $4.8 million. The Peterson Companies, developers of National Harbor, have contributed $4.2 million.
On the other side Penn National Gaming, sole contributor to the anti-expansion Get The Facts—Vote No On 7 committee, has contributed $42 million. Experts have said Penn National is interested in protecting its casino in West Virginia, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
There is a possibility the results of the referendum could be overturned. Former Prince George’s County Councilman Thomas Dernoga filed a lawsuit Friday questioning the standard required for Question 7 to pass. He is arguing that in order to pass, the referendum would need the approval of the majority of registered voters, not just those who go to the polls Election Day.
Elected officials who supported the so-called Maryland DREAM Act were rewarded for their optimism early Tuesday night with a win at the ballot box.
Votes in favor of referendum Question 4—that would allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend community colleges and public universities—outpaced those against 63 percent to 37 percent, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
"New Americans make America stronger, not weaker. New Americans move us forward, not back," O'Malley said.
Nathaly Uribe, a 17-year-old senior at Glen Burnie High School, was brought to the United States from Chile in 1997. She said the law will change her life.
"Tonight means doors open," Uribe said. "It was almost like our dreams were in a glass box. It's hope, it's promise, it's future. It also feels like the country that I call home has finally accepted me for who I am. ... [Illegal immigants] are just as American as any other child. Some of us, you wouldn't think they were undocumented."
Uribe said she plans to double major in biology and political science "to give back to my community through science."
House Speaker Michael Busch said the wins for same-sex marriage and the DREAM act made Tuesday night "very successful evening for the Democratic Party."
He added that both make Maryland a nationwide leader on civil rights.
An effort to overturn congressional districts redrawn by O'Malley earlier this year failed.
More than 1 million voters, about 63 percent of the total vote counted so far, approved the new maps.
Across the state, voters in 22 of 24 jurisdictions voted for the new maps. The majority of voters in Carroll and Garrett Counties voted against them.
Tony Campbell, president of Marylanders for Coherent and Fair representation, said the defeat at the ballot box was the result of a question that was hard for voters to understand.
"The question was misleading and untruthful," said Campbell, adding that his group will work to reform the process for the next decennial redistricting.
"The next step is we're going to draft a bill and find bipartisan support for an independent redistricting commission," Campbell said. "That was our plan if we won and that's our plan still."
Three Other Questions Pass
Voters also approved three other statewide referendum questions including:
- Changes requiring that orphans court judges in Baltimore and Prince George's Counties be attorneys passed with more than 90 percent of the vote each.
- A measure that allows for an elected official to be suspended from office immediately upon conviction rather than upon sentencing. Nearly 88 percent of voters statewide voted for the ballot question.
Capital News Service Reporters Caitlin Johnston, Julie Baughman, Rachael Pacella, Matt Owings, Matt Fleming and Chris Leyden contributed to this story.