Six states have already legalised same-sex marriage, while 30 states have passed laws prohibiting it

Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington have approved ballot measures legalising same-sex marriage.

In Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as only a union between a man and woman. Minnesota’s action does not make same-sex marriage immediately possible. There is still a state law banning it, but by rejecting the constitutional amendment, voters cleared the way for the legislature or courts to permit such marriages.

Maryland and Washington voters upheld laws permitting same-sex marriage that were passed earlier in the year by their legislatures and signed by their governors, but challenged in the referendum process.

Thirty other states have passed laws prohibiting such marriages. Previously six states and the District of Columbia had allowed same-sex marriages through legislative action and court rulings.

Voters in Maine approved a referendum authorising same-sex marriage, a measure that bypassed courts and the legislature, and reversed a 2009 referendum to ban such unions.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the US bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, called for renewed efforts to strengthen and protect marriage and family life and expressed gratitude to marriage protection supporters.

Election Day was a disappointing one for marriage, he said.

“The meaning of marriage, though, cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature. No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union,” he said. “It is either this, or it is nothing at all.”

“In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined. I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honour this foundational and common sense truth of marriage,” the archbishop said.

In Maryland, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori was among the most vocal leaders of the campaign to defeat the referendum, and he expressed disappointment in the vote.

“I think that vote will prove not to have been for the common good of our state,” he said.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, which advocates for public policy on behalf of the state’s bishops, joined the Maryland Marriage Alliance in efforts to overturn the law. Archbishop Lori praised the advocates’ work over the past year.

“So much hard work went into this, and I’m very, very grateful to everyone who worked so hard,” he said. “We will continue to witness to the values of marriage as understood as the union of one man and one woman, as the most sound, secure and loving way to bring children into the world.”

The Catholic conference said: “Regrettably, Marylanders decided by the narrowest of margins not to repeal the law that redefines marriage.”

With 97.5 per cent of the Maryland vote tallied, 52 per cent, or 1,208,068 voters, approved the same-sex marriage measure, compared to 48 per cent, or 1,112,998 voters, who rejected it.

The language of the ballot measure “masked the fact that this law does not simply assign civil benefits to gay and lesbian couples, but drastically dismantles in our state law the fundamental family unit of mother, father and child,” the conference said.

“The people of Maryland were promised that this law would protect religious institutions and individuals who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and we will remain vigilant in ensuring that those promises are upheld,” it added.

Bishop Richard Malone, who is administrator of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, said: “I am deeply disappointed that a majority of Maine voters have redefined marriage from what we have understood it to be for millennia by civilisations and religions around the world.” The bishop, who in August was installed to lead the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, thanked “the Catholic faithful who did not abandon Catholic teachings on the nature of marriage”.

Maine’s voters, with 78 per cent of the vote tallied, agreed to repeal the same-sex marriage ban by a vote of 53.4 per cent to 46.6 per cent against.

In efforts to persuade voters to oppose legalising the marriages, the bishops of Washington had issued video statements and a pastoral statement opposing the referendum.

With about 60 per cent of the vote tallied yesterday morning, the vote was 52 per cent in favour of allowing same-sex marriages compared to 48 per cent opposed.

In Minnesota, with 99.7 per cent of the vote tallied, the result was 51.3 per cent, or 1,507,152 votes, to oppose a ban on same-sex marriage, compared to 47.6 per cent or 1,400,396 votes to support the measure.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis wrote in a column in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, that the Church’s “effort to support God’s unchanging plan for marriage is not a campaign against anyone but rather a positive effort to promote the truth about marriage as a union between one man and one woman”.