Among the myriad measures on ballots across the 50 states were four measures involving same-sex marriage. Voters in three states -- Maine, Maryland and Washington -- approved legalizing same-sex marriage while voters in Minnesota turned aside a measure that would have amended the state constitution to define marriage was between a man and a woman.
In Minnesota, the effort to defeat the amendment coalesced an amalgam of organizations focused on one simple message evoking the golden rule, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. Several observers gave props to the massive grass-roots campaign for its success in defeating a same-sex marriage ban that succeeded in 30 other states.
"When the history is written about this constitutional amendment," state Republican operative Maureen Shaver told the Pioneer Press, "the length of the campaign and the intensity by the 'Vote No' supporters is unprecedented in modern campaigns."
Minnesota Vote No organizers saw how efforts in other states failed because of message creep, so they settled on a message that was "this sort of Midwestern value of the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would like to be treated," said Sheila Smith, a campaign organizer. And they stuck with it.
"The messaging was focused," said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. "That's pretty amazing given the size and scope of the campaign."
The real downfall for amendment supporters was a Vote No television ad that showed a tribute given by military veteran and Republican state Rep. John Kriesel on the House floor to Andrew Wilfahrt, a gay soldier from Minnesota killed in Afghanistan.
That ad was "the lead dog in the parade," former Minnesota Republican Senate Minority Leader Duane Benson said.
But there also was a certain amount of smugness among amendment supporters, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, based in Washington, told the Pioneer Press.
The organization donated about $1.5 million to support passage of the Minnesota amendment.
"I think there was a bit of complacency on our side, honestly," he said. "The reality is we've always won these, and though we sort of shouted from the mountaintops that we needed more resources, I think ... some funders thought, 'Well, they've been able to make it in tough states before.'"
Besides waging a four-state battle, the anti-same-sex marriage success in previous elections made racking up future wins more difficult, the Pioneer Press said.
"We've already won all the red states," Brown said. "So the remaining states were always going to be the toughest for us, and it's absolutely no indication about what's coming next to say that they've been able to win on their own turf."
Maryland's same-sex ballot initiative saw both legal and legislative maneuvering before it made it to the ballot, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Lisa Polyak, who was a plaintiff in an unsuccessful lawsuit over same-sex marriage, said she had mixed feelings about passage of the ballot question by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.
Polyak told the Sun passage is "good for the dignity" of gays and lesbians, "knowing that folks in the future don't have to shimmy down the highway" to get married. But, she said, "Voters shouldn't have had to vote for something that's a fundamental right."
Advocates of same-sex marriage rights say they plan to push lawmakers in at least six more states toward legalization, The New York Times reported.
Nine states and the District of Columbia have now legalized same-sex marriage. Though it remains unpopular in the South, advocates said they see potential wins in several states, including New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in February.
Public opinion about same-sex marriage is shifting as more people become comfortable with the idea and be come more acquainted with gay individuals and same-sex couples.
"The pace of the change in opinions has picked up over the last few years," Michael Dimock, associate research director of the Pew Research Center, told the Times, "and as the younger generation becomes a larger share of the electorate, the writing is on the wall."
In Maine, voters rejected a same-sex marriage initiative three years ago 53 percent to 47 percent but approved it on Election Day 2012 by the same margin.
One voter who changed his vote was Douglas Emmons, 52, of Biddeford. He told the Times he changed his mind this year after urging by his daughter and a discussion with a field organizer for Mainers United for Marriage, which backed the proposal.
"It's still something that's uncomfortable; it doesn't seem quite natural," Emmons said. "But I guess everybody should have an equal chance at marriage if they want it."
Opponents of same-sex marriage, led mainly by evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, pledged to intensify their defense of "natural marriage," saying they don't believe the national tide has moved against them, the Times said.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said Election Day "was a disappointing day for marriage," the National Catholic Reporter said.
The Election Day results represented "a symptom of a much larger problem," Cordileone said, basically that "people don't understand what marriage is."
Some Republicans question whether the GOP should try to push back against a seemingly inescapable demographic trend.
"Why should we sign a suicide pact with the National Organization for Marriage?" Schmidt asked.
Strategists for marriage equality say nationwide change likely will come through the court system where the constitutionality of restrictive policies can be challenged. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to consider cases involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal programs from recognizing same-sex marriage, and California's Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum that banned same-sex marriage, but faces a legal challenge.
Cordileone said a Supreme Court Court ruling that would redefine marriage nationwide would be "the Roe decision for marriage," referring to the unanimous 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade legalizing abortion.
Frank Schubert, a National Organization for Marriage consultant who managed all four state campaigns to block same-sex marriage, said, he thinks "the messaging was working; we just didn't have enough of it."
Schubert told the Times he expected to run advertisements warning that redefining marriage would negatively affect society.
But Zach Silk, campaign manager of Washington United for Marriage, which advocates for same-sex marriage rights, said "scare tactics" fell flat in on Election Day 2012 and likely would again.
"The fear and confusion they used to win in other places, it's an old playbook and it doesn't work any more," he said.
The results also have encouraged gay-rights groups to press President Obama to sign an executive order that would ban discrimination by federal contractors against gay and transgendered people, The Hill reported.
The White House shelved the executive order earlier in 2012, but gay-rights groups argue if Obama signs the order, it could encourage Congress to pass legislation that would extend a similar ban to employers.
Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said gay-rights supporters want to see movement from the president sooner rather than later.
"I do think it helps pave the way for a fully inclusive" Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Herwitt said. "It is the way that the government puts its imprimatur on what's important and makes a difference in people's lives. The president would be saying it's important not to discriminate."