Voters put a stop to same-sex marriage in California, dealing a crushing defeat to gay-rights activists in a state they hoped would be a vanguard, while the state joined Colorado and South Dakota in turning back efforts to ban or limit abortions.
Those results were among the more than 150 measures, touching on everything from egg-laying chickens to taxes to renewable energy, voted on Tuesday in 36 states.
In California, the nation's most populous state, voters approved a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriages. With almost all precincts reporting, Proposition 8 had 52 percent approval. Spending for and against the measure reached $74 million, the most expensive campaign this year outside the race for the White House.
"People believe in the institution of marriage," Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign said after declaring victory early Wednesday. "It's one institution that crosses ethnic divides, that crosses partisan divides. ... People have stood up because they care about marriage and they care a great deal."
The constitutional amendment limits marriage to heterosexual couples, nullifying a California Supreme Court decision that had made same-sex marriages legal in the state since June.
Lawyers for gay-rights advocates on Wednesday filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that voters did not have the authority to make such a dramatic change in state law. The petition argues that the measure revised, rather than amended the California Constitution, and therefore first should have been submitted to the state Legislature.
Ban-gay-marriage amendments were also approved in Arizona and Florida, states where such unions were never legal. Similar bans had prevailed in 27 states before Tuesday's elections, but none were in California's situation — with about 18,000 gay couples already married. The state attorney general has said those marriages will remain valid, although legal challenges are possible.
In another setback for gay-rights advocates, Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.
Anti-abortion efforts fizzle
California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have required doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion on a minor. The defeat of Proposition 4 marks the third time in four years that supporters of the measure have failed to limit abortions for teenage girls.
The initiative was similar to laws in 35 states and would also have required a two-day waiting period before a minor could get an abortion. Opponents said it was a thinly disguised attempt to chip away at abortion rights.
Elsewhere, voters in Colorado and South Dakota rejected measures that could have led to sweeping bans of abortion, and Washington became only the second state — after Oregon — to offer terminally ill people the option of physician-assisted suicide.
The Colorado measure, which was defeated soundly, would have defined life as beginning at conception. Its opponents said the proposal could lead to the outlawing of some types of birth control as well as abortion.
The South Dakota measure would have banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest and serious health threat to the mother. A tougher version, without the rape and incest exceptions, lost in 2006. Anti-abortion activists thought the modifications would win approval, but the margin of defeat was similar, about 55 percent to 45 percent of the vote.
"The lesson here is that Americans, in states across the country, clearly support women's ability to access abortion care without government interference," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.
In Washington state, voters gave solid approval to an initiative modeled after Oregon's "Death with Dignity" law, which allows a terminally ill person to be prescribed lethal medication they can administer to themselves. Since Oregon's law took effect in 1997, more than 340 people — mostly ailing with cancer — have used it to end their lives.
Pot, affirmative action
The marijuana reform movement won two prized victories, with Massachusetts voters decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug and Michigan joining 12 other states in allowing use of pot for medical purposes.
Henceforth, people caught in Massachusetts with an ounce or less of pot will no longer face criminal penalties. Instead, they'll forfeit the marijuana and pay a $100 civil fine.
The Michigan measure will allow severely ill patients to register with the state and legally buy, grow and use small amounts of marijuana to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss and other symptoms.
Nebraska voters, meanwhile, approved a ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action, similar to measures previously approved in California, Michigan and Washington. Returns in Colorado on a similar measure were too close to call.
Ward Connerly, the California activist-businessman who has led the crusade against affirmative action, said Barack Obama's presidential victory proved his point. "We have overcome the scourge of race," Connerly said.
Energy, animals, taxes
Energy measures met a mixed fate. In Missouri, voters approved a measure requiring the state's three investor-owned electric utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. But California voters defeated an even more ambitious measure that would have required the state's utilities to generate half their electricity from windmills, solar systems, geothermal reserves and other renewable sources by 2025.
Two animal-welfare measures passed — a ban on dog racing in Massachusetts, and a proposition in California that outlaws cramped cages for egg-laying chickens.
Amid deep economic uncertainty, proposals to cut state income taxes were defeated decisively in North Dakota and Massachusetts.
In San Francisco, an eye-catching local measure — to bar arrests for prostitution — was soundly rejected. Police and political leaders said it would hamper the fight against sex trafficking. And in San Diego, voters decided to make permanent a ban on alcohol consumption on city beaches.