PORTLAND, Maine — Maine made history Tuesday when it became the first state in the nation to approve same-sex marriage by voter referendum.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, with 456 — or 62 percent— of 578 precincts reporting, there were 286,484 votes, or 53.3 percent, in favor of Question 1 and 250,809 votes, or 46.7 percent, opposed.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, which supports Question 1, declared victory just before midnight.

“Three years ago, Maine made history as the first state to pass marriage through a state legislature and have it signed into law by the governor. Maine made history again this year when we became the first state to bring a citizen’s initiative to voters in support of the freedom to marry. And we have made history tonight,” he told about 1,000 cheering supporters at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. “For the first time, we have won marriage at the ballot box.”

Carroll Conley, co-chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, which opposed Question 1, conceded in a statement emailed to the media about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday.

“When we started this campaign, we stated marriage was in trouble in our country,” he said. “The problems that have weakened this critical institution started long before this attempt to redefine it. We made the case for traditional marriage, but we are terribly disappointed we were unable to convince enough voters to hold onto the value of traditional marriage for society.

“We genuinely fear for the consequences we raised during the campaign. The fact remains, marriage still needs to be strengthened and promoted for future generations,” he continued. “We call upon the faith community to focus its resources on marriage — the basic building block of civilization.”

Conley said earlier that the vote did not appear to be going in his side’s favor and the campaign was “concerned.” He also said it lost Biddeford and Lewiston, two cities that voted to repeal gay marriage three years ago.

McTighe said same-sex couples should be able to obtain marriage licenses before the end of the year. The law passed Tuesday goes into effect 30 days after the governor and Maine secretary of state certify the election results.

Jen Hillstrom, 49, and Kimm Collins, 52, both of Falmouth, have been a couple for more than a decade. In 2003, they went to Vermont for a civil union ceremony. Seven years later, they were married there.

“Maine is our home and so we are ecstatic that we can finally get married at home,” Collins said after victory was announced in Portland. “Marriage matters to all Maine families and the good people of Maine recognized that and we are grateful.”

“It’s a thrill to finally know that people’s hearts and minds can change,” Hillstrom said. “We are honored to live in this state. Maine made history today.”

Collins said they plan to marry in Maine in 2014 because “one needs time to plan these things.”

McTighe said factors contributing to Tuesday’s victory included having the question on the ballot during a presidential election, when turnout is highest, and the three years proponents had to plan and execute a winning strategy.

“Tonight, here in Maine, we proved that voters can change their hearts and minds if we tell our stories and give our fellow citizens a personal connection to the countless families whose lives are impacted by this debate,” McTighe said. “To all the states out there that have seen marriage stripped away or blocked at the ballot box, take hope from the change that’s taken place over the last three years in Maine.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, based in Washington, D.C., called Maine’s decision on Question 1 “a landmark election for marriage equality, and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point in the movement for full citizenship for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people.”

“We are thrilled for all Maine families and for the dedicated campaign that led this effort through to the end,” he said in statement issued moments after McTighe announced victory. “As we celebrate victory tonight, we know we have added momentum to ensure that this victory is soon felt in every corner of this country.”

Re-elected 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree left her own victory party to greet Question 1 supporters in Portland. Pingree said one of her proudest moments as a representative from Maine was when she voted to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That policy prevented members of the U.S. Armed Forces from being discharged for being openly gay or lesbian.

Former Gov. John Baldacci also stopped in at supporters’ election night party in Portland. In 2009 Baldacci signed into law a bill passed by the Legislature to allow same-sex marriage in Maine. It was repealed that same year in a people’s veto referendum by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

Outside the crowded ballroom, Baldacci said if the referendum passed, it would not be his legacy but part of the state’s legacy.

“I want to say how proud I am of the people of Maine for being open to listening to the conversation over the past year,” he said. “There is something in the air and the water of the state of Maine that makes people fight for what’s right.”

Conley said he was proud of how his side had conducted the campaign.

“We believe we’ve conducted this campaign in an honorable way, in a respectful way,” he said. “Now we just have to wait.”

The Rev. Marvin Ellison, a professor at Bangor Theological Seminary and a member of the board of directors of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, disagreed.

“That may have been the intention, but I don’t think that was the actual result,” Ellison said. “I think the campaign stirred up people’s fears unnecessarily that somehow religious freedom would be jeopardized if same-sex couples could marry. I think there are real differences among people of faith [on this issue], but I also know people of faith [who] support the freedom to allow same-sex couples to marry do that in good faith.”

The total amount of money raised and spent by the Question 1 campaigns this year won’t be known until Dec. 18, when the final financial reports are due to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices in Augusta.

In 2009, the campaign that wanted the law to remain in place spent about $4 million compared to the $2.5 million spent by those who wanted to repeal it. Earlier this year, supporters of same-sex marriage predicted they would spend between $4 million and $5 million on the campaign. Opponents said they would raise less than half of that.

During the most recent reporting period, Oct. 1-23, Mainers United for Marriage raised about $964,000. As of Oct. 23, supporters of gay marriage had raised a total of $4.3 million. The largest contributor for the period was the Human Rights Campaign Fund, based in Washington, D.C., which gave the campaign more than $300,000.

Protect Marriage Maine raised nearly $950,000 during the same period, bringing its total to $1.4 million. It received $800,000 in first three weeks of October from the National Organization for Marriage, based in Washington, D.C., and another $100,000 from the Knights of Columbus.

After the 2009 repeal, proponents of gay marriage began planning for a statewide vote in 2012. They gathered signatures to put the referendum on the ballot in August 2011. They were required to gather at least 57,277 valid signatures, or 10 percent of the total number of people who cast ballots for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

Advocates turned in petitions from 453 towns and cities on Jan. 26, 2012. Of the 96,137 signatures submitted, 10,921 were determined to be invalid, the Secretary of State’s Office said in February when it announced the issue would be on the Nov.6 ballot.

In New England, same-sex marriage is allowed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, and civil unions for same-sex couples are allowed in Rhode Island. Other states that permit same-sex marriage are New York and Iowa, along with Washington, D.C.

At least two of three other states considering same-sex marriage questions Tuesday voted in favor of the initiatives. In Washington and Maryland, voters approved bills to legalize same-sex marriage by rejecting bids to veto laws passed by those states’ legislatures. A measure in Minnesota that would define marriage as between one man and one woman was too close to call as of 1 a.m. Wednesday.

“Those who oppose the freedom to marry for committed couples are clearly on the wrong side of history,” said Rick Jacobs, founder and chairman of a pro-same-sex marriage organization called the Courage Campaign, in a press release. “More and more voters are coming to know that gay people are our neighbors, our co-workers, our fellow parishioners, our family and our friends.”

Before Tuesday’s vote in Maine, in the states where same-sex marriage is allowed, the laws had all come through either court orders or legislative votes, not through a statewide popular vote.

In February, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill to allow same-sex marriage in that state. A constitutional ban on gay marriage passed in North Carolina on May 8.

BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.