In a big defeat for the gay rights movement, California voters put a stop to gay marriage, creating uncertainty about the legal status of 18,000 same-sex couples who tied the knot during a four-month window of opportunity opened by the state's highest court.
Passage of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage — in a state so often at the forefront of liberal social change — elated religious conservatives who had little else to cheer about in Tuesday's elections.
Gay activists were disappointed and began looking for battlegrounds elsewhere in the back-and-forth fight to allow gays to wed.
"There's something deeply wrong with putting the rights of a minority up to a majority vote," said Evan Wolfson, a gay rights lawyer who heads a group called Freedom to Marry. "If this were being done to almost any other minority, people would see how un-American this is."
Legal skirmishing began immediately, with gay rights groups challenging the newly passed ban in court Wednesday and vowing to resist any effort to invalidate the same-sex marriages that took place after the state Supreme Court decision in May.
"If they want to legalize gay marriage, what they should do is bring an initiative themselves and ask the people to approve it," said Frank Schubert, co-chairman of the Proposition 8 campaign. "But they don't. They go behind the people's back to the courts and try and force an agenda on the rest of society."
The amendment, which passed with 52 percent of the vote, overrides the court ruling by defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Thirty states now have adopted such measures, but the California vote marks the first time a state took away gay marriage after it had been legalized.
Gay marriage bans also passed on Tuesday in Arizona and Florida, while Arkansas voters approved a measure aimed at gays that bars unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.
Massachusetts and Connecticut are now the only states to allow same-sex marriage.
Even as the last votes were being counted in California, the American Civil Liberties Union and other opponents of the ban filed a challenge with the state Supreme Court. They contended that California's ballot cannot be used to undermine one group's access to rights enjoyed by other citizens.