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Anti-abortion measures lose in Colo., S.D.

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Michigan OKs medical marijuana; Massachusetts decriminalizes some pot

NBC News and news services

updated 10 minutes ago

Voters in Colorado and South Dakota on Tuesday rejected anti-abortion initiatives, while Michigan approved medical marijuana and Massachusetts decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, according to NBC projections.

Those results were among the first from 153 state measures across the country. Some of the nation's most divisive social issues — gay marriage, abortion and affirmative action — went before voters as 36 states.

The most momentous was a proposed constitutional amendment in California that would limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Results were not yet available on that vote.

In Washington, voters were deciding whether to join Oregon as the only states offering terminally ill people the option of physician-assisted suicide. Massachusetts had three distinctive measures on its ballot — to ban dog racing, ease marijuana laws and scrap the state income tax.

Massachusetts voters rejected killing the state tax. Critics of the proposal had said the cuts would ripple state services, drive up property taxes, harm the state's credit rating and scare away business.

On same-sex marriage and affirmative action — issues on which the public is deeply divided — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain had rarely made proactive comments during their presidential campaigns. Abortion also had seemed like an uncomfortable topic for them at times, although Obama made clear he supports abortion rights and McCain said he would like to ban most abortions.

But in a half-dozen states, those three issues were front and center.

Same-sex marriage

Florida, Arizona and California have constitutional amendments on their ballots that would limit marriage to a man and a woman. Twenty-seven states have previously approved such amendments, but none were in California's situation — with same-sex marriage legal since a state Supreme Court decision in May. Only Massachusetts and California allow same-sex weddings, while gay couples are expected to begin marrying this month in Connecticut. Several states allow civil unions.

California's opposing sides together raised about $70 million, much of it from out of state, to wage their campaigns. The outcome, either way, will have a huge impact on prospects for spreading same-sex marriage to the 47 states that do not allow it.

The rival camps view the California vote in epic terms, with the outcome of Proposition 8 having enormous influence on prospects for same-sex marriage rights in other states.

"If we lose California, if they defeat the marriage amendment, I'm afraid that the culture war is over and Christians have lost," said Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association. "California is a big dam, holding back the flood — and if you take down the dam in California, it's going to flood 49 other states."

Obama is expected to win easily in California, but the vote on Proposition 8 is expected to be close. Of keen interest to both sides is how churchgoing black and Hispanic voters — in general a pro-Obama constituency — will vote on the ballot measure.

According to exit polls, blacks were far more likely than whites or Hispanics to support the ban. Age also was a key factor — the exit polls showed voters under 30 opposing the ban by a 2-to-1 margin, while most voters 60 and older supported the ban.

Both Obama and McCain say they oppose same-sex marriage. But Obama, unlike McCain, opposes Proposition 8 and endorses the concept of broader rights for same-sex couples.

Gay rights also is an issue in Arkansas, where a ballot measure would prohibit unmarried couples from adopting or being foster parents. Conservatives backing the idea say it's aimed at same-sex couples, who are able to adopt and be foster parents in most states.

CONTINUED : Other issues1 | 2 | Next >


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