Until last night, marriage equality had never been approved in America as a statewide ballot measure. It had only ever been put into place by a state legislature or court ruling. 

But then came last night, when voters in three states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington State*) OK’d proposals to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, and voters in a fourth state (Minnesota) rejected a proposal to ban it. 

In effect, Americans voted “no” on two separate questions. 

These measures partly concerned the separation of church and state, asking voters, “should the government endorse a specific religious view on marriage?”

But they also hit on more deep-seated values such as fairness and equality, asking voters, “should the government treat certain Americans differently?” 

Last night, at least in regards to marriage, Americans answered both of those questions in the negative. They rejected the idea that religious belief should form the basis for public policy on marriage, and voted for the government to treat all citizens the same. 

These votes are further signs that the momentum is shifting. An increasing majority of Americans believe consenting adults should be able to love and marry as they wish. Which means the real question now is not “can marriage equality happen across the United States?” but “how long will it take?” 

*Edit: votes are still being counted in Washington State.