(Updated: Nov. 8, 5:05 p.m. ET)
Tuesday's election ushered in a new historical era for gay rights as residents in Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first voters to approve same-sex marriage initiatives.
Same-sex marriage initiatives have appeared more than 30 times in various elections since 1998, but these victories represent the first time the issue has been approved by the voters.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, remarked on the first state to announce results, Maine:
This is a landmark election for marriage equality and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point in the movement for full citizenship for LGBT people. Voters in Maine came to the common-sense conclusion that all people deserve the ability to make loving, lifelong commitments through marriage.
In Washington, voters passed a referendum to allow same-sex marriage. Referendum 74 upheld the state's same-sex marriage law signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire back in February.
Activists also celebrated in Minnesota, where voters shot down a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between one man and one woman, according to an NBC News projection. Although same-sex marriage is still not recognized in Minnesota, the vote against the amendment is significant because it makes the state the first to turn back a constitutional amendment that would define marriage.
Maine, Maryland and Washington join half a dozen other states, mainly in the Northeast, that have already legalized gay marriage: Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.
This marks the second time in four years that Maine residents have voted on same-sex marriage. It failed in 2009.
In Maryland, where same-sex marriage has been banned by law since 1973, Gov. Martin O'Malley praised his state's residents for their decision. The Maryland legislature and Gov. O'Malley had signed a measure into law to pass gay marriage, but conservative groups had sought to overturn the rule at the ballot box.
"By this vote, the people of our state affirmed that we are one Maryland," Gov. O'Malley said in a statement.