PORTLAND, Maine - The first gay and lesbian couples to wed under Maine's new same-sex marriage law exchanged vows early on Saturday in a series of spare but joyous civil ceremonies held shortly after midnight.
Maine, Maryland and Washington state became the first three US states to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote with passage of ballot initiatives on Nov. 6. But Maine was the only one of the three where voters did so entirely on their own, without state legislators precipitating a referendum by acting first.
Nine of the 50 US states plus the District of Columbia now have statutes legalizing gay marriage. Washington's law took effect on Dec. 9, and Maryland's law does so on Jan. 1, 2013. Another 31 states have passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage to heterosexual couples.
The tide of public opinion has been shifting in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. In May, President Barack Obama became the first US president to declare his support for allowing gay couples to marry.
A Pew Research Center survey from October found 49 percent of Americans favored allowing gay marriage, with 40 percent opposed. The US Supreme Court has agreed to review two challenges to federal and state laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.