Marriage, Marijuana and Women Set Records

There will be a record number of women senators in the next Congress.

November 7, 2012, 11:33 AM

Nov. 7, 2012 -- President Obama was re-elected, the Democrats kept control of the Senate and the House still belongs to the Republicans. Six-billion dollars later, the partisan divide in Washington looks as stark as ever.

But a look further down the ballot reveals an election night that delivered a wide array of meaningful changes to the body politic. From New Hampshire, now home to the country's first all-female congressional delegation, to Maryland and Maine, the first two states to legalize gay marriage by popular vote, the decisions rendered Tuesday could well outshine the identity of Florida's eventual electoral winner.

On a banner night for female candidates, Democrat Elizabeth Warren became the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts. The Granite State also made history, sending two new representatives to Washington, meaning all four of the state's standard-bearers on Capitol Hill will be women. New Hampshire also elected a female governor, Maggie Hassan.

See full election results here.

When the 113th Congress is sworn in early next year, there will be 19 women senators present, breaking the record set by today's lame-duck group. Among them, the nation's first openly gay member of the Upper Chamber: Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin. Her defeat of Republican Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin was another landmark result from Tuesday night's vote. Baldwin is one of four openly gay House members.

Marriage rights for same-sex couples were also given a boost by voters Tuesday. Before Election Day, six states had legalized gay nuptials, each of them through legislative or judicial action. Four more went to the polls with ballot referenda asking whether to legalize or open the door to similar decisions.

In Maine, supporters gathered up enough signatures to sponsor a new referendum, 2012's vote overturning a 2009 popular vote to negate legalization legislation in the statehouse.

Maryland did about the same, defeating a challenge to the gay marriage law passed by legislators and signed off on by Gov. Martin O'Malley March 1. Voters in Washington state, who had another high-profile decision to make Tuesday night, were asked to do the same, but the results are still unknown.

The question was different in Minnesota, but the message was the same. Voters there squashed a proposal to add a gay-marriage ban to the state constitution. The three, maybe four, victories for gay marriage advocates broke a losing streak that stretched back to 1998, and included 32 consecutive defeats at the polls.

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Further west, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. But with those answers, they've created a whole new set of questions to be answered by the federal government, in particular the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration.

A challenge to the laws could eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, much like when California first legalized the sale of "marijuana grown for medical use" in 2003.

"The beginning of the end… has begun," the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) wrote on its website today. "Yesterday's elections have forever changed the playing field regarding cannabis prohibition laws in America (and probably in large parts of the world too)."

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was less enthused. "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly," he warned.

In another decision likely to run up against or along federal deliberations, voters in Maryland adopted the state's version of the Dream Act. The law provides for undocumented immigrants to pay in-state or in-county tuition fees (both considerably lower than the out-of-state rate) at public universities so long as they meet certain requirements, such as graduating from a Maryland high school, completing 60 hours of credits at a community or two-year college, and filing taxes.

One last first from an eventful election night: Voters from Michigan's 11th district have sent the singular Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farming, Santa impersonator, to Congress to replace the outgoing Republican Thaddeus McCotter. Bentilovio defeated Syed Taj, a Democrat, in a narrow decision.

Mia Love, a Utah Republican, will not be caucusing with Bentivolia in Washington, however. Her bid to become the GOP's first black congresswoman was thwarted by incumbent Rep. James Matheson. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were denied their chances at history, too, Romney at becoming the first Mormon president and Ryan the first vice president born after -- he was five months late -- August 1969's Apollo 11 moon-landing.

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