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Same-sex weddings in Washington State: Breakthrough for gay marriage?

On Election Day, voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State approved same-sex marriage – the first time such unions had been approved by popular vote. Same-sex marriage licenses in Washington were issued for the first time Thursday.

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“Since voters 18 to 29 years old support same-sex marriage 63 to 35 percent, once again we see it's just a matter of time,” says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn. "It seems pretty clear that attitudes toward same-sex marriage in American society are changing rapidly. While the country remains split on the issue, supporters have come pretty far in the last four years.”

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Meanwhile, official attitudes and actions are moving in the direction of greater acceptance as well.

During the past four years, the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" ban on gay service members serving openly has been reversed, the Obama administration has refused to legally defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, and President Obama has joined other senior political figures in voicing support for same-sex marriage.

It was more than symbolically significant that the Cadet Chapel at the US Military Academy at West Point recently held its first same-sex marriage, conducted by a US Army chaplain. (One of the two women is a West Point graduate.)

Until last month’s elections in Washington, Maine, and Maryland, six states and the District of Columbia had granted marriage rights to same-sex couples. They are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Opinion polls may indicate a steady change in support of same-sex marriage among the general population. But another survey – this one conducted on Election Day for the conservative National Organization for Marriage – indicates that most  voting Americans nationwide (60 percent) agree that "marriage is between one man and one woman,” with 51 percent of all respondents agreeing strongly.

Supporters of gay marriage acknowledge that they still have a long way to go in gaining full public acceptance.

Meanwhile, following a three-day waiting period after marriage licenses are issued, members of the clergy and other authorized officials will begin conducting same-sex weddings this weekend in Washington State. The ballot measures approving such marriages become law in Maine on Dec. 29 and in Maryland on Jan. 1.

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