Maine, with three other states, set the course for the nation to follow Tuesday, approving same-sex marriage in a historic decision. Acceptance, we hope, is spreading. Today we celebrate the votes in favor of positive social change, rooted in a belief of dignity and religious freedom.

Gay couples can adopt in Maine. They can serve in the military and die at war. It is illegal to discriminate against them when it comes to housing, employment or education. Now, thankfully and finally, Maine recognizes their right to affirm their commitment to one another in marriage.

This is a right, we have argued, outlined in the U.S. Constitution, that no state may “enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States … nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

In addition to a legal right, gay marriage is a matter of fairness and care for each other. That fairness extends to those who understandably oppose gay marriage for religious reasons — as no clergy members are required to officiate at same-sex wedding ceremonies. This law is a government matter and simply extends the ability of the state to issue marriage licenses.

One day, marriage may seem like an unquestionable right for gay couples. But getting to this point took patience, hard work and time. It required door-to-door efforts and personal conversations. Tuesday’s ballot initiative passed because voters across Maine changed their minds. May their belief in equality hold.

After the results were announced, Suzanne Carver, of Hampden, found herself stunned. “I feel an overwhelming amount of love and support from the people of the state of Maine,” she said. “The world is becoming more willing to accept our differences.” As she celebrated with her partner of 12 years and their two daughters, she said she is comforted knowing her children will be raised in a society that acknowledges the legitimacy of their family.

We applaud the efforts resulting in that recognition of equality and hope more states follow the examples set Tuesday by Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. We are encouraged by the words of President Barack Obama’s victory speech in which he stressed the need for opportunity for all.

He said, “I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Mainers were willing to try, and views shifted. For this alone, we are proud. Vote or no vote, the growing acceptance makes this state a more welcoming place — where people come together to live and let live, love and let love.