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Maine voters on Tuesday could make their state the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage without prior legislative action.

In Minnesota, meanwhile, residents will vote on a measure that would ban gay marriage, while allowing civil unions.

Overall, residents in four states on Election Day will decide closely watched questions related to gay rights.

In Maryland and Washington state, voters will decide whether to uphold or reverse moves to permit same-sex marriage.

In the United States, six states have legalized gay marriage: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont; the District of Columbia and two Native American tribal jurisdictions have followed suit. All have done so by legislation or court order.

Since 1998, 31 states have had gay marriage questions on their ballots, and voters have rejected them every time.

But this year could be different.

A Washington Post poll shows that 52 percent of Maryland voters are in favor of question 6; a "yes" vote would uphold Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's move to legalize gay marriage. The poll shows 43 percent likely to vote against it.

Polls in Washington state show similar results, with a KCTS-9 survey showing 57.3 percent likely voting to keep the law in place, compared to 36.2 percent of voters who said they are against it. The poll also asked voters what general issues are most important to them ahead of the election, and 21.3 percent answered that gay rights/marriage equality mattered most to them.

Maine's question 1 will appear as an indirect initiated state statute, and if it succeeds it will overturn a voter-approved 2009 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

Question 1 has been surrounded by controversy in Maine, right down to its wording. Secretary of State of Maine Charlie Summers announced in July that the final language would read: "Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"

The question previously was shorter and read: "Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?"

Summers told the Associated Press his office received more than 600 comments on the original wording, which had been proposed by his office. He said the new wording is at a 7th-grade reading level. The last proposed question was 6th-grade, he added.

Maine's referendum to legalize gay marriage is leading in polls by a 52 to 45 margin, Public Policy Polling found.

In Minnesota, Public Policy Polling recently found that 45 percent of voters say they'll vote for the gay marriage ban, compared to 52 percent who are opposed to it.

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