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Calif. Same-Sex Marriage Ban Vote Undecided

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Supporters and opponents of a ballot initiative that would outlaw same-sex marriage in California braced for a long, tense wait Tuesday night after exit polls and initial returns showed neither side w

(Photo: Tensions flared as supporters and opponents of Prop 8 faced off at San Diego's Golden Hall. Nathan Gibbs/KPBS )

Supporters and opponents of a ballot initiative that would outlaw same-sex marriage in California braced for a long, tense wait Tuesday night after exit polls and initial returns showed neither side with a clear advantage.

After Barack Obama's early White House victory, the California gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, quickly became the nation's wild card contest. Both backers of gay marriage and the sponsors of the measure expressed confidence they would eke out a narrow victory.

Returns showed Proposition 8 passing with 53 percent of the vote, but that was with only one-third of precincts reporting. The measure needs a simple majority to pass.

"Buckle your seat belts, honey, it's going to be a going to be a bumpy ride," Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told recently married couples anxiously awaiting the election results at a hotel in San Francisco's Union Square.

Although California is the first state where voters were given the chance to prohibit same-sex marriage after it had been legalized, Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign, said he was encouraged by the passage Tuesday of a similar state constitutional amendment in Florida.

"That's a state Obama campaigned in heavily..., as in California," Schubert said.

Spending for and against the amendment has reached $74 million, making it the most expensive social-issues campaign in U.S. history and the most expensive campaign this year outside the race for the White House. Since a state Supreme Court decision tossed out an earlier voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in May, about 18,000 couples have been married.

Exit polls had the race a virtual tie. Parents, churchgoers and voters who never attended college said they voted for the gay marriage ban, while college-educated and nonreligious voters opposed it.

Blacks strongly voted for the ban, while whites leaned slightly toward opposing it. Latinos and Asians were split.

Christian conservatives who sponsored the measure and gay rights groups working to defeat it have said whichever side wins would score a majority victory in the nation's culture wars.

About 100 people gathered at the Yes on 8 party at a hotel across the street from the state Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday night.

The Rev. Cliff Lawson said he began registering members of his church to vote since last year. "We've prayed and we've believed and we've done what we can, and now we'll just see what happens," said Lawson, who ministers at a nondenominational Christian church in Vallejo.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom preached patience to the same-sex couples at the Union Square event who were unable to enjoy Obama's victory while their personal lives hung in the balance. Newsom called the wait "excruciating."

"You decided to live your life out loud, to fall in love, and to say 'I do,"' and now you have to wait for this verdict," he said.

First-time voter Vanessa Puga, 21, voted for Obama and for Proposition 8. She has a baby and "I don't want them to teach him about gay marriage. I want to be the one to teach him." During the campaign, the measure's sponsors ran ads claiming teachers would be required to teach young children about same-sex marriage if Proposition 8 failed, an assertion state education officials debunked.

Paul Quin, 66, a poll worker for the No on 8 campaign who was in San Francisco's gay Castro district on Tuesday said he worried voters may have not understood that a "no" vote indicated support for same-sex marriage and vice versa.

"The only thing I can do is remain positive," said Quin, who married his longtime partner earlier this year.