PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine made history when voters reversed course on gay marriage the second time around — and Matt McTighe knew it.
‘‘It just shows if you go out and have those one-on-one conversations and talk about what marriage means to all Maine families, people are going to change their minds,’’ said McTighe, campaign manager for the group that spearheaded the campaign that led Maine to join Maryland on Tuesday as the first states to approve same-sex marriage with a public vote.
Washington and Minnesota also held votes on gay marriage Tuesday. Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage while early returns in Washington showed voters narrowly approving same-sex marriage.
But Maine, where a previous public test on gay marriage had failed, was the first place where supporters had collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot themselves, and they raised far more money than their opponents.
With more than half the state’s precincts reporting early Wednesday, including the largest city of Portland, the measure was passing by more than 8 percentage points. Carroll Conley, head of the Protect Marriage Maine group that opposed the measure, said all signs had pointed to a referendum victory, but he wasn’t ready to concede late Tuesday.
Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but those laws were either enacted by lawmakers or through court rulings. In popular votes, 32 states had previously held elections on same-sex marriage, with all losing.
Mainers three years ago overturned a gay marriage law, 53-47 percent, passed by the Legislature. Almost immediately after the 2009 defeat, gay marriage supporters began holding those ‘‘conversations’’ with Mainers — more than 200,000 in all — on the phone and in person to persuade them that ‘‘loving, committed’’ couples of the same sex should be allowed wed.
Since the 2009 vote, many public opinion polls have shown a shift in favor of gay marriage rights, the ban on gays serving openly in the military was lifted, and President Barack Obama endorsed the right of gay couples to marry and ordered the Justice Department to stop enforcing the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
After casting his ballot at a Portland polling place, Craig McKenzie, 50, said people should be able to do what they want.
‘‘It’s none of my business who gets married to who,’’ he said.
Opponents claimed that allowing people of the same sex to marry was essentially a redefinition of the institution that would have consequences on society and a chilling effect on freedom of expression and people’s religious convictions.
Shane Leroux, 45, said he voted against the ballot measure because it conflicted with his viewpoints and upbringing. ‘‘I just don’t believe in it,’’ Leroux said after voting in Portland.
The effective date of the new law will be set after the vote is officially tabulated and the governor signs a proclamation, but it will go into effect no later than Jan. 4, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Mainers United for Marriage, McTighe’s group, raised more than four times as much money as Protect Marriage Maine, the PAC leading the opposition.
Most of Protect Marriage Maine’s money came from the National Organization for Marriage, a leading national anti-gay marriage group that has opposed same-sex initiatives in multiple states.